Marsh Lake surpasses record water levels

Submerged boat launch by Alaska Highway bridge near M'Clintock River. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)
Road into house on tip of peninsula between Army Beach and South M'Clintock.  (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)
WhitePass & Yukon Route dock in Carcross Monday morning.  (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)
Yukon Energy Corporation's water control structure on July 4.  (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Marsh Lake officially reached 2007 flood levels on Sunday morning, six weeks in advance of the normal high water peak. Last week, Yukon’s Protective Services branch flew in flood experts. This week they flew in the army.

The news of pending federal assistance was tweeted by Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defense, on July 3.

It was welcome news to John Streicker, who looked visibly relieved talking about federal government support in Carcross on July 4.

He was on his last leg of a tour of the lake “loop,” and was dumping water from his shoes after helping people rescue a boat from the Wheaton River. Streicker is MLA for the Southern Lakes and minister of energy, mines and resources. Richard Mostyn, minister of community services, also toured the region earlier that day. Both ministers “are concerned about the severity of the situation.”

Stream flow at unprecedented levels

As water levels increase in the Yukon’s Southern Lakes area, so do the streamflow rates below the hydro dam in Whitehorse.

Andrew Hall, president and CEO of Yukon Energy Corporation (YEC), is watching those numbers carefully. On July 3, he said water was flowing at 670 cubic metres per second, by July 5 it was up to 700, and is forecast to increase to 800 cubic metres per second as the system peaks in the next month.

Flood officials issued a streamflow advisory on Monday, cautioning people to stay clear of the fast-flowing rivers and potentially unstable riverbanks. Officials will be watching Marwell and other low areas along the Yukon River carefully.

For now, Yukon Energy Corporation is making sure the water from the big lakes can get through to Schwatka Lake, which is sitting a metre lower than normal.

Hall described how they opened the gates at the Marsh Lake control structure earlier than usual. They also opened the boat lock gates and welded them in place. That didn’t work for long, since the water proved stronger than the welds. The Yukon River broke the welds and slammed the lock gates shut. YEC struggled, but last week managed to remove the gates on the locks completely.

Now they have to find a way to remove some or all of the 26 water control gates that have been pulled up above the river level, now that they are realizing that the maximum rise on the gates might not be high enough.

Hall said they have not yet figured out the best approach to remove the gates, but they are working on it. It will be tricky, involving cranes and equipment, but he was confident they would find a way to remove them safely.

“Right now, our purpose is to protect our infrastructure,” Hall said.

Properties at risk

Streicker is worried about lives and the prevention of catastrophic events. Some of the highest risk areas are around low-lying areas where creeks and rivers join the lake system. He is most concerned about the populated area between South M’Clintock, Army Beach and the Alaska Highway.

There are nearly 100 properties in this area including some very expensive homes. The Yukon government is concentrating on completing a system of berms, devoting almost half its flood efforts to Marsh Lake resident properties at immediate risk.

The quantity of debris floating throughout the Southern Lakes system poses significant challenges. Debris from forest deadfall and new forest fall is filling up beaches, jamming up along YEC’s control structure, and beginning to pile up on Yukon Route railway bridge in Carcross.

Docks everywhere are loosening their connection to solid ground. Old structures along the river bank on Waterfront Drive in Carcross have been demolished or removed in anticipationof the inevitable.

Most boat launch sites are flooded out, and it is getting difficult to pass under some bridges. Boaters have been asked to slow and reduce wake, as wave action can weaken flood walls. So can wind and waves.

Emergency Services reminds people in the area to be flood and evacuation prepared. A boil water advisory has been issued for residents of Army Beach and South M’Clintock who use private wells or underground water storage tanks. This is a precautionary measure to protect public health from problems that could arise from flooding and high ground water.

As the water rose over the weekend, politicians, government officials and residents recognized that there is no weakness in asking for help, neither from neighbours nor the federal government. Expertise, equipment, muscle and resolve are greatly needed to help face yet another ‘unprecedented’ event.

Contact Lawrie Crawford at