Upper Liard braces for flood

by John McHutchion
Yukon News reporter - June 21, 1999

While most parts of the Yukon are suffering through a lack of moisture, the southeastern part of the territory has too much.

The recent warm weather has too quickly melted the snowpack in the Watson Lake area.

That sent water rushing into the creeks and streams feeding into the Liard River and left residents in the tiny community of Upper Liard anxiously watching the river's rise.

After rising about 60 centimetres between Saturday and Tuesday, the river level stabilized Thursday at 5.75 metres.

That's only about 30 centimetres below the top of the dike protecting Upper Liard, so YTG crews are doing repair work to the dike on the east side of the river, said Eric Magnuson, director of the Yukon's Emergency Measures Organization.

YTG also stockpiled sandbags at its Watson Lake grader station for residents to use to shore up the dike.

Five homes would be threatened if the water was to crest the dike, said Magnuson.

If the cooler weather forecast for the area over the weekend arrives, however, the water level should drop, said Magnuson.

The situation is still uncertain and could change with an increase in temperature or a significant amount of rainfall next week.

The Liard River watershed was one of the few places in the territory to get an average to above average snowfall this past winter.

Combine that with the recent quick jump in temperature and conditions become right for a freshet, a flood from heavy rain or melted snow.

"This is a major river basin, so there is a delay when that weather is reflected in the river levels," said Magnuson.

An evacuation plan for Upper Liard is ready to go, should it even be needed, said Magnuson.

If an evacuation is necessary, the EMO hopes to give residents enough advance warning so they can take some of their possessions.

The high water on the Liard is not that unusual, said Magnuson.

In June, 1992, the river crested 90 centimetres above its current level.

In 1961, 1964 and 1972, the river hit a maximum level 1.4 metres above it current depth.