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Flood leaves Mayo family waterless

Kim and Cheryl Klippert drive half a kilometre to use the bathroom. Even though the Mayo couple have one in their house. They also have a kitchen sink.

Kim and Cheryl Klippert drive half a kilometre to use the bathroom.

Even though the Mayo couple have one in their house.

They also have a kitchen sink.

But their dishes have to be washed in a basin using water from blue jugs.

In early December, when the Mayo River breached the village dike, the Klipperts’ well and septic system flooded.

Next door, Kim’s brother’s basement turned into a three-and-a-half-foot deep block of ice.

“It’s something that should never have happened,” said Kim.

The placer miner has been in the community for 47 years, and he’s watched the Mayo River flood before.

The last time was in ‘92, during the spring freshet.

That time, it was Kim’s sump pump that saved the village.

Now the river’s breached the dike again, in the same spot.

“That hole’s been in the dike since ‘92,” said Kim.

“It’s a situation that should have been fixed 18 years ago.”

But a hole in the dike is not the problem, said Yukon Emergency Measures planning co-ordinator Chris MacPherson.

The main problem is that the dike is not actually a dike, he said.

It’s just a raised road that was built up with organic matter, like fallen trees.

“It was not engineered to be an impermeable dike,” said MacPherson.

“And over the years, that organic matter has broken down.”

This year, when ice jams pushed the river over its banks, the flood waters didn’t flow over the raised road.

They flowed under it.

“It was all happening underground,” said MacPherson.

The first sign of trouble was water bubbling up out of the ground in Yukon Energy’s maintenance yard.

It was minus 40 degrees, and as it boiled up, it froze, creating severe glaciation.

The Klipperts’ house was just down the road.

And Kim noticed his well water rising.

He called Emergency Measures and the village, suggesting they start pumping water from the town side of the road, back into the river.

But they didn’t, he said.

Instead, Emergency Measures appointed an incident commander, who began clearing ice from diversion channels to reroute the water.

All this work had to be cleared by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, because it involved salmon habitat.

Meanwhile, the Klipperts’ well continued to rise.

Local contractors worked around the clock, and through Christmas, clearing ice from the channels.

It was late December by the time they were cleared.

By this point, the Klipperts’ well was five-feet higher than normal and their septic system was completely submerged.

But the water rushing against the raised road had dropped from five feet to just six inches.

That’s when Emergency Measures started pumping water from a sump hole on the town side of the dike, back into the river.

Immediately, the Klipperts saw their water levels drop.

“If they had put the pumps in that pool right away, I would never have had this problem,” said Kim.

“I wouldn’t have high water and a flooded septic, and my brother wouldn’t have a block of ice in his basement.”

The idea was to get the water levels down before starting the pump, said MacPherson.

“With the pumps we saw results almost immediately,” he said.

“But if we just started pumping right away, the water would have continued to cycle through” the raised road.

Kim agreed starting the pumps right away would have recirculated the water.

“But at least it wouldn’t have been coming into town,” he said.

Kim’s brother is also a placer miner, and goes away for winters.

Before he leaves, he drains his pipes and shuts down his house.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do about the ice in his basement,” said Kim.

“And his floor is all bowed up from the water.”

Environmental Health told the Klipperts their well was no longer safe to use.

And their septic field is out of commission, probably for good.

“They’ve told me I may have to abandon the whole thing,” said Kim.

“The septic’s probably already contaminated the well.”

The Klipperts are holding Emergency Measures and the village of Mayo responsible.

And, although Emergency Measures denies its existence, Kim insists there’s been a hole in the dike since ‘92.

The pumps were set up in the same place this time as they were in ‘92, because that is where the water comes through, he said.

“That’s what I would call a hole.”

The Klipperts’ house sits on the village boundary, so Mayo has washed its hands of the problem, said Kim.

The only help they’ve received has been from Yukon Energy Corporation, which offered the couple the use of its staff house facilities.

That’s where the Klipperts drive to do laundry, fill up water jugs or use the washroom.

But this week, the staff house is occupied and the Klipperts are relying on friends in the community.

Cheryl works at the school and not having water, makes getting ready for work tough.

“We’ve been having sponge baths,” said Kim.

“We know the Klipperts have been impacted,” said MacPherson.

“And we want to help anyone in trouble.

“We have to look at what assistance appropriate departments can offer them.”

In the interim, Emergency Measures is bringing in hydrology experts to determine what caused the Mayo River to flood and to try to set up a better plan of action, so it doesn’t happen again.

“We are continuing to monitor it,” said MacPherson, mentioning the potential for high runoff this spring.

One option is to build a real dike, he said.

“They’ve already spent over $200,000 and haven’t fixed the problem,” said Kim.

As a placer miner, Kim knows a lot about water and hydrology.

“Every summer I get water licences to deal with stream diversion and restoration of channels,” he said.

Kim uses “the common sense approach.”

And common sense tells him that when water starts pouring into a village, you need to start pumping it out.

“Instead, they got a bunch of excavators in there and started ripping up the riverbank,” he said.

And by taking the ice cap off the river, relieving the surface tension, they may have created an even bigger problem come spring, he said.

“And when spring runoff comes, my water table has nowhere to go but up.”

When it finally drops down, the frost will follow it, added Kim.

That’s when his flooded septic tank will likely freeze and break.

A new well and septic will cost the Klipperts $50,000 to $100,000, said Kim.

“And we’re on our own,” he said.

“I like the territory.

“I’ve been here 47 years.

“But this feels like a real slap in the face.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at