The false narrative on Southern Lake water levels
(Ed. Note: This first-person timeline of Southern Lakes, which spans 15 years, has not been independently fact-checked by the Yukon News. Due to its length, it appeared in two parts in the print letters sections on Nov. 2 and 4.)
My name is Gary Pettifor and I live at 100 Army Beach Drive, Marsh Lake. Local residents are, for the most part, reserved and have let a false narrative go on for years. We are hearing that people are upset with Army Beach/South McClintock residents, that we do nothing and then expect the tax payer to bail us out — it is time to tell our side.
2007 — The snow pack is over 163 per cent of normal and extremely high water is coming. This is an accurate statement and appreciated, thank hydrologist Mr. Richard Janowicz. I spent $28,000. on protecting my property — some others did also, some did nothing.
2007 — Mr. Rick Metcalfe is persistently asking Yukon Energy to lower the Schwatka Lake reservoir and open the spill ways. Yukon Energy’s CEO Mr. Dave Morrison states at a public meeting at Judas Creek that he has asked the Yukon Executive Council for permission to lower the Schwatka Lake reservoir one meter to the low level of Yukon Energy’s water license. He further states that this request is turned down by the Yukon Executive Council. (Remember this is important, read on).
2007 — YG, EMO and Wildland all tout this as the 100-year flood. This was a false statement — it was climate change, period! A lot of residents at Army Beach/South McClintock are seniors on fixed incomes with no government pensions. Why would anyone spend their life’s savings when you are going to be dead by the next 100-year flood? Some people believe government — I didn’t, and spent another $48,000 on flood prevention.
2007 — My neighbor comments on the wave downstream 50 feet from the Lewes Dam — this wave is two feet high in a calm river. The difference from the upstream side of the Lewes Dam and the downstream side of the Lewes Dam is well over a foot of water height. I go and see the same thing myself.
In 2007 Yukon Energy did not open the Lewes Dam gates early and when asked about this, Yukon Energy stated if they did everything right it would have only made a 3.5-inch difference on the flood water level. A totally false statement.
Yukon Energy stated repeatedly at public meetings that Miles Canyon is a critical choke and if more water came down the river it would just bunch up and spread out in front of Miles Canyon. A totally false statement.
Next, Yukon Energy stated that even if they used dynamite and blew out the Lewes Dam and the Whitehorse Dam it would make no difference in the high water mark during floods, because of Miles Canyon. A totally false statement.
2008 — I do not believe Yukon Energy’s narrative and go to the water board. I research the Lewes Dam. It clearly shows a ledge about 50 feet behind the Lewes Dam. There is no permit taken out or letter of authorization – this is an illegal structure. This ledge is 40 foot sheets of corrugated metal pounded into the river bed and then blast rock is put in front of this ledge. All of the stats from 1955 to 1966 do not exist anymore. In 1967 the low water level according to the federal government water gauge (09AB004)(YT) was 0.195 meters. After the Lewes Dam Ledge was installed, the lowest water level was 5.8 inches higher, the highest was 36.38 inches higher, for the next 52 years the average was 24.32 inches higher.
2009 — This is the 75 year flood, I go to the Lewes Dam and all of the gates are wide open. The boat locks doors are closed. I go to the middle of the island (west side of the boat locks), put a level on the island and it is perfectly level. I measure the water level on the upstream side and then the water level on the downstream side. The difference is 17.5 inches; Yukon Energy has no comment.
2010 — Yukon Energy’s hydrology shows for every four inches of water above this ledge it equals one inch of higher water at high lake water levels. In 2007 the water was 14.7 inches above the ledge which equals 3.7 inches of high water Yukon Energy came up with a figure of 3.5 inches. In 2021 the water was 18.58 inches which would have added 4.64 inches on to the high flood waters. This came from a study that recognizes Miles Canyon is a critical choke. This study states that Tagish Lake is 1 meter lower than Marsh Lake, the Six Mile River should run in reverse in the winter, which they state is obviously not true. Then this study admits that they do not understand all of the affecting factors in the Southern Lakes systems.
I go after Yukon Energy and Minister Streicker. I tell Yukon Energy that according to their own history the WP&YR dam (replaced with the Lewes Dam with 30 gates 1976) when the 36 gates were opened all of the way, a wave or surge of water went through Miles Canyon which means it is not a critical choke. Water proceeded through the Yukon River by Whitehorse — this extra high water made launching the large river boats easier. Finally this wave or surge of water went to Lake Laberge where it took the ice out 2-3 weeks earlier. I told Yukon Energy they could not tell two opposite stories and be believed.
2020/2021 — We are told that we have a 200% snow pack and we are going to have record high waters. I threaten Yukon Energy and Minister Streicker/Crown Council with a lawsuit. Two things happen — Yukon Energy opens the Lewes Dam boat lock doors to let more water through. During the flood, Yukon Energy admits that by opening the boat lock doors they are letting 5% more water through the Lewes Dam. Thank you Minister Streicker and Yukon Energy. Next, Yukon Energy lowers the Schwatka Lake reservoir by 1 meter to the low level of their water license. Yukon Energy hires a large helicopter and put hundreds of 2-ton sand bags on the Lewes Dam to try and keep it from washing out.
2021-2022 — Minister Streicker puts out weekly weather reports and the expected water levels in the Southern Lakes. Here he publically states that by lowering the Schwatka Lake reservoir in 2021, Yukon Energy just discovered that this lowering draws the water quicker through Miles Canyon. Streicker issues a further statement that this lowering of the reservoir also lowered the 2021 flood lake (Marsh, Tagish) high water levels by a whole 18 inches. WOW!! I measure the difference from the upstream side and the downstream side of the Lewes Dam, all the gates are open and the boat lock doors are open. The difference is 17 inches even. I try to measure during the extreme high flood of 2021 but the boat locks are washed out and the island is heavily damaged. So I look at the west side and there are actual water gauges. So I take new readings and they are only at 12.5 inches — what? I am sure that the reading should be 17 inches. A week later it dawns on me when I am washing dishes in the kitchen sink. The side of the sink shows the true level but the water right above the drain is much lower. This is called a vortex when the water is sucked lower. The water gauges on the Lewes Dam are within a foot of the open gate thus in the vortex, which gives a false reading.
So, in 2007 Yukon Energy did not lower Schwatka Lake levels and kept the water at the high mark. This would have added 18 inches to the 2007 flood in the Southern Lakes system. Add the 17.5 inches difference of water levels caused by the Lewes Dam. The Lewes Dam Ledge which, according to Yukon Energy, added 3.5 inches to the flood levels. This is a total of 39 inches that Yukon Energy added to the 2007 flood levels. Yukon Energy engineer gives me an email stating that from everything he knows, the Lewes Dam is 2 to 4 inches lower in elevation. Let’s deduct the average of 3 inches. So Yukon Energy/Crown Council only exasperated the 2007 flood by 36 inches. If the water was 36 inches lower the residents of Marsh Lake would not have even been in a flood. In 2021, Minister Streicker publically stated that they were going to lower the Schwatka Lake reservoir by a further 10 centimeters or 4 inches. This did not happen but I do not think he knew he could not do so without changing Yukon Energy’s water license. The ledge counts for 4.64 inches of higher water and the Lewes Dam accounts for another 17 inches of water. So Yukon Energy exasperated the 2021 flood water levels by 21.64 inches minus the elevation of 3 inches. Yukon Energy exasperated the 2021 flood levels by 18.64 inches. Had Yukon Energy lowered the Schwatka Lake reservoir lower, our flood high waters would not have been as high as it was.
2021 — For safety I put 700 sand bags in front of my property with solid backing. EMO (500 year flood) and the Army stated State of Emergency, you have no choice and added over 2,300 more sand bags along with 6 super bags. What a mess — I did not need or want this unnecessary protection. So this year I added $63,000-worth of flood protection bringing our personal cost to over $150,000 plus at least 6 months of hard work, and the anguish of being unnecessarily flooded out by Yukon Energy and the Yukon Executive Council.
2009 — Yukon Energy CEO Morrison had Army Beach Drive ditch graded, then installed a water pump to pump the ground water out of the ditch over a berm which goes back into the lake. This was done because he recognized that the high lake water equaled high ground water and flooding. This has been in place and working for over 10 years. Now the new CEO wants nothing to do with this pump but he wants an extra 12 inches of water storage in Marsh Lake. So I guess this is a ‘screw you’ to us. Yukon Energy also agreed to install other ditches to remove the ground water, also to upgrade a couple of border lined septic systems. These promises were based on Yukon Energy getting its extra 12 inches of water storage. The new CEO ignores all references to these past promises. On Sept. 26 2022, the Marsh Lake levels were 12 inches over the level where the Lewes Dam can start to close its gates. This day Y.E. increased the Schwatka Lake water level by 1 meter, which will increase the water level in Marsh Lake. On Oct. 12 we all get a rain forecast emergency bulletin that we can expect 12 inches of more lake elevation on top of the highest water ever recorded in Marsh Lake at this date. Mr. Howatt and I bring this to the Marsh Lake Local Advisory Council where ministers Mostyn and Streicker are in attendance. A day later and Yukon Energy lowered Schwatka Lake Reservoir by 1 meter, thank you ministers. Here again residents have to monitor Yukon Energy and bring forward a grievance to force compliance. Yukon Energy is either very incompetent or they just do not care if we flood out unnecessarily.
Bottom line — Yukon Energy has to recognize that the Whitehorse Dam also controls the Marsh/Tagish Lake levels. For our safety any new water license must have mandatory controls when we are in flood situations, Schwatka Lake must be brought to minimum levels and left there until there is no longer a flood situation. I also agree with Minister Streicker this low level for Schwatka should be a little lower. This needs some open investigation to see how low. No one is asking to get less hydroelectricity. Our flood season is when Yukon Energy has enough energy without using diesel so it does not cost rate payers anything to my knowledge. In 2008 Yukon Energy stated they would save $1 million of diesel fuel each year with the extra 12 inches of water storage. Diesel’s cost now is many times higher than it was but Yukon Energy still uses the same figure a dozen years later. We do not trust Yukon Energy — I hope you understand why after reading this letter.
Minister Streicker sat at my kitchen table and stated there is no point in anyone protecting their property unless everybody does and I agree with him. I was close to being flooded because YTG has not put any protection on the YTG vehicle access next to our property (or the other YTG easements). When notified, the Ministers did have a temporary fix put in place by EMO. The pump in the back ditch must be upgraded as in floods it keeps us from being flooded out by rear ground water going through the road culverts.
The law states that if someone builds something on their property that damages your property then you can sue them for compensation. I believe that Yukon Energy/Yukon Executive Council has done this, remember ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.
Minister Mostyn stated that YTG spent $20.5 million on this peninsula last year. As a firefighter for 37 years it is basic knowledge, in a large emergency the second you officially declare a state of emergency all monies spent are federal dollars (not territorial dollars). Someone really messed up here. In 2008 an EBA study put a figure of $1.6 million to put a rock berm from the Army Beach day use area to the point. YTG sent a representative to the community stating that they were going to put this rock berm 100 feet out from shore. He would not hear of moving it close to shore. This was turned down, this representative was smiling ear to ear, as he just saved YTG 1.6 million dollars. So this government did the 4 D’s – Discuss, Disarm, Defer and then Do nothing.
In closing, I am happy to see YTG found $4.2 million to repave their administrative building parking lot. Yukon Energy has spent over $12 million in propaganda to get an extra 12 inches of water. This money would have covered a lot of property protection instead they spend money and our situation does not change. I look forward to a response to this article from CEO Hall or Ministers Streicker/Mostyn. All we are presently getting is silence.
Thank you for your time and for reading this,