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‘Really evident’ change on Mackenzie River, with record-low water levels this year | CBC News


Hot temperatures with little rain is causing water levels to drop on the Mackenzie River, according to an N.W.T. hydrologist. 

“Extreme hot conditions have led to a lot of evaporation. There’s not a lot of water to move to the rivers, and there’s also very little precipitation,” said Ryan Connon, a hydrologist with the territorial government. 

He said hot and dry weather conditions last year, as well this year, have led to the decrease in the water levels.

The low water means barges are unable to transport cargo to northern communities. As of right now, the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson is the lowest it’s ever been on record for this time of year — and is 1.4 meters below average levels. 

About half of the water in the area comes from the Great Slave Lake, and the other half comes from the Liard River — which are both already experiencing a significant drop in water levels because of the heat. 

The territorial government monitors water levels over time with gauges at three spots on the Mackenzie River: at Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Tsiigehtchic. Connon said all three gauges would show similar reasons for low water levels for the Mackenzie River. 

For people living close to the river, the low water is a concern. Frank T’Seleie lives in Fort Good Hope, right beside the river. 

“I hope it doesn’t completely dry up, because we fish on the river, and harvesters use it to head to the harvesting areas … it’s critical that we continue to have access,” he said. 

He said harvesters at Fort Good Hope use the river to travel into mountainous areas where they can access moose, caribou and sheep. 

He said the drop in water is also changing how the river looks, by exposing sand bars and silt on the shore. 

“The change is really evident,” he said.

Picture of rock with water around it, higher levels.
A picture of the Mackenzie River at Norman Wells in July 2023. (Submitted by Ryan Connon)
A picture of a lake but there seems to be less water.
A picture of the Mackenzie River at Norman Wells in June 2022. (Submitted by Ryan Connon)

Buddy Gully also lives in Fort Good Hope and says he can’t go hunting because he has to wait for the water to rise. 

“Right now, we’re just waiting for the river or rain to come to us,” he said. 

“It’s really hard for us to go hunting … it’s really hard on the people.”

Gully said elders in the community are saying they’ve never seen the water this low in the area at this time of year. 

Connon said in order for water levels to rise, there needs to be a significant amount of precipitation for the Liard River basin. He said that area is mountainous and rocky, so water will immediately flow into the rivers and be noticeable on the Mackenzie. 

Precipitation in the Great Slave Lake basin could help, but it would be a more gradual change since the large lake will hold more water before it flows into the Mackenzie River. 

Connon said a lot of the area that drains into Great Slave Lake has dry soil, so it would take a lot of precipitation to saturate the soil before water would even move into the lake. 


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