Liard River will flood in June: hydrologist

Residents of southern Yukon might want to empty their basements after the territory's chief hydrologist predicted abnormally high water levels through the spring.

Residents of southern Yukon might want to empty their basements after the territory’s chief hydrologist predicted abnormally high water levels through the spring.

The Yukon’s first snowpack measurements, taken from watersheds across the territory on April 1, indicate a surge in water levels in the Liard and Alsek basins, as well as the White River, Beaver Creek and Whitehorse regions.

So far, only the unincorporated community of Upper Liard, whose snowpack is 161 per cent higher than normal, is predicted to flood in early June.

“The snowpack is a record-high snowpack up there,” said Richard Janowicz, the Department of Environment’s hydrology manager.

“If we have a really cold summer, where the snow melts off slowly, that would be the only thing that keep the water levels down,” he said. “But that is not likely to happen.”

Upper Liard sits on a vulnerable wedge of land between the Liard River and the Alaska Highway, just minutes west of Watson Lake.

The small community experienced severe flooding in 2007, resulting in $150,000 in damage to homes and property, according to residents.

Last spring, the community’s dike was reinforced with cubic-metre sandbags, known as superbags. However, the flooding cycle, which used to be 20 years, is now accelerating, say residents.

Not so, said Janowicz.

“The snowpack has not increased over the last 30 years,” he said. “The 2007 flood was the sixth- or seventh-highest flood on record, it certainly wasn’t anything phenomenal.”

After conducting a flood frequency analysis, Upper Liard residents should expect a flood every five to 10 years, he said.

“This is just a cycle and I think we’re at the top end of a cycle,” he said. “I would think that, in the next 10 years, we would have some lower winter precipitation.”

Climate change has increased temperatures in the Yukon, but precipitation patterns aren’t changing, he said.

The Emergency Measures Organization will monitor the Liard River’s rise throughout the next two months, and will determine whether the dike needs more work once the snow melts around it.

“(The flooding) is very dependent on how high and how fast the actual snowpack melts,” said Michael Templeton, the organization’s manager. “If we have a cooler spring, the waters might not come up as high or as fast.”

“We’re going to have fire crews examine (last year’s dike) this spring and see if it needs repairs (or reinforcements),” Templeton said.

Firefighters will examine the dike in early May, he said.

Flooding is caused by three factors: glacial melt, rainfall and snowpack melt respectively, said Janowicz. It’s easy to predict flooding in Upper Liard because snowmelt is the only factor in the watershed, he said.

“It’s totally a snowmelt-dominated system,” said Janowicz.

The 2007 flooding in the Southern Lakes region had more to do with glacial melt.

“Snowpack is actually the smallest contributing factor (to flooding),” he said.

Glacier-dominated water basins tend to flood more in the late summer.

“The summer temperatures are very important in dictating how much glacial melt there is in high elevation,” said Janowicz.

That’s why it’s too early to predict flooding in the Southern Lakes and Upper Yukon regions.

The Whitehorse area’s snowpack is 155 per cent its normal height, while the Alsek Basin is 158 per cent and the White River/Beaver Creek region came out at 165 per cent.

Another round of snowpack measurements will be taken around May 1.

Contact James Munson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted


Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Hans Gatt wins inaugural 2021 Yukon Journey

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022