Marsh and Atlin Lakes could fill power shortage

Yukon Energy is revisiting its controversial proposal to increase Marsh Lake's winter water levels to make up for a power shortage predicted to come in the next few years if major mines enter production.

Yukon Energy is revisiting its controversial proposal to increase Marsh Lake’s winter water levels to make up for a power shortage predicted to come in the next few years if major mines enter production.

In 2006, the public utility put the plan on ice after residents expressed fears the move would cause flooding.

But last Thursday, when Yukon Energy announced its feasibility study at a meeting at the Marsh Lake Community Centre, residents were much more receptive to the idea, said Jo-Anne Smith, a councillor on the Marsh Lake Local Advisory Council.

“People were pretty much in agreement with that,” said Smith.

When the idea was last floated, Marsh Lake had just gone through a heavy spring flood.

“The community at the time felt that it was the cause of the flooding of Marsh Lake,” said Smith. “But once they explained it, (Yukon Energy) wasn’t the cause of it.”

The water level hike would keep Marsh Lake’s summer water heights steady into the fall and winter.

The extra water would help feed the Whitehorse hydro dam during the winter, when power usage is highest and diesel generators are most often used.

There is already a small dam where Marsh Lake spills into the Yukon River, which would be used to alter water levels.

“The over-all message we got from Marsh Lake residents is that we should do some studies and come back to talk to them once we have some hard data,” said Yukon Energy spokesperson Janet Patterson in an e-mail.

Around 35 to 40 people attended Yukon Energy’s information session in Marsh Lake, said Smith.

A similar proposal was introduced to Atlin residents and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in early January. Atlin Lake is one of three major lakes that feed into Marsh Lake.

Yukon Energy wants to install a small submerged dam in the Atlin River that would keep water levels high throughout the fall and winter.

This would also keep Atlin Lake’s water levels at summer heights through the winter.

The extra hydro power would allow Yukon Energy to cut 4.8 million litres of diesel from its power grid. That could save $4.8 million annually.

There is no estimate on how much either proposal might cost.

The feasibility studies will likely take between one and two years, said Smith. (James Munson)

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