One of the things you may have heard people talking about lately is the lake and river levels. If you have not been out to the beach or lake in a while, its worth taking a drive. I have lived here since 1992 and it’s the lowest I have ever seen it. This time of the year its getting pretty cold and time spent at the beach is of little or no concern to anyone anyway, but it’s a pretty big concern to municipalities and industry. If you take a look currently there is areas in the lake near the mouth of the river that are literally a couple inches deep. You could walk around out there in rubber boots and not get your feet wet. This is quite scary as there is a concern about the levels falling below the level of the weir. At this point water would stop flowing in the river. This would have a detrimental impact on fish and natural habitat, we could potentially not be able to provide drinking water to town, MD, and Sawridge First Nation. Additionally Slave Lake Pulp and Cardinal energy (formerly Pennwest) would cease operations.
For those that don’t know the Town’s water intake is currently in the river. Making sure the river keeps flowing is paramount as our treated water is used by Town, MD and Sawridge First Nation Residents. So what are we doing.
Essentially the lake is our bathtub and the river our drain. Right now we have a problem that the drain is somewhat plugged as we have a huge amount of sediment blocking that channel. The other issue is Lake levels are low, so making the river flow will only compound the problem . It should be noted that more water is lost to evaporation than going down the river. For the immediate we need to deal with all the siltation. The MD has taken the lead on this and we have a dredging machine currently working at the mouth to deal with our flow issues and make sure the flow continues. This will help maintain the intake and aquatic life which fixes part of the issue. We are also looking at installing siphons at the weir. This is essentially some big pipes that pull the water over the weir and keep water flowing downstream so our local economy keeps moving along and people’s jobs are not affected. As a long term solution we have lobbied the provincial government to make some modifications to the weir so we would never have to use syphons again. This process has been going for years now and they have finally committed to doing it in the spring at their cost. This helps with the downstream users, but more work will still need to be done to deal with siltation which is ongoing. We have been in discussions with the Province, the Watershed council and even the westend users to determine a strategy moving forward.
This will take some time, money and lobbying to come up with a good solution. In the meantime we are spending somewhere between $500,000-$800,000 (depends on how much material we suck out and how many days it takes the dredge machine to extract) to deal with this problem. The costs are quite high and continuing to operate this way is not sustainable. What’s worse is that although this will help deal with drinking water, aquatic life and industry users, it does little to help recreational users (boats).
This problem is not going to go away without moisture so please pray for a lot of snow this winter and a tonne of rain in the spring. As this expense was not planned, the municipalities and industry are going to have to examine immediately some ways to pay for it. We also need to come up with a long term sustainable plan and although is one sentence in hear, will be a mountain of work. Stay tuned for more updates along the way.