Lac Seul witnessing its longest recorded dry period
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
With the continuing dry weather and lack of ample rainfall, Lac Seul has been witnessing the driest period that the area has ever recorded.
Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB) Executive Engineer, Matt DeWolfe shared, “The dry conditions in the Lac Seul/ English River watershed are exceptional, the longest dry period in the Board’s records for this area. The dry conditions began in early 2020 and have gotten gradually worse with very little precipitation through the winter and again this summer.” He added, “The drought conditions and low water levels will persist until there is widespread and significant rainfall. The greater the drought, the more precipitation that will be needed to restore flows and water level to normal.”
DeWolfe shared that these long-standing dry conditions raise concerns over the level of Lac Seul and its use to provide flow for hydropower generation, both at Lac Seul and along the English and Winnipeg rivers downstream in Ontario and Manitoba. He explained that the Lac Seul reservoir was partly created to store water for situations like this, to ensure adequate supply is available to meet electrical generation demands along these rivers.
The LWCB regulates water levels of Lac Seul/Lost Lake and the flows along the English River below Lac Seul, as well as the level of Lake of the Woods and the flows along the Winnipeg River in Ontario.
“The LWCB is closely monitoring the storage level in the lake, understanding that without significant precipitation before winter, the water presently in storage in Lac Seul will provide this flow through next spring. As the lake level falls over the winter, it sets up the spring level to be lower than normal which could have negative results for spring spawning fish at Lac Seul. A wetter fall or a moderate winter with a decent snowpack could alleviate these concerns, however,” shared DeWolfe.
DeWolfe shared, “The level of Lac Seul is currently at a 5th percentile, meaning that the level at this time of the year has been lower in only five per cent of years in the LWCB’s 30-year reference period, 1986-2015. The record low for this time of year was set in 1958 and was approximately 45 cm lower than it is today. The low that year was due to dam operations rather than dry conditions. More reflective of the dry conditions is the rate of water flow into Lac Seul, which is the lowest for August since the 1980s.”
Lac Seul’s mean level on August 10 was 355.50 m (metres) according to Lake of the Woods Control Board’s latest 10-Day Database Report, shared DeWolfe.
DeWolfe shared that lower water levels also expose boaters to an added number of hazards, reminding them to be cautious. “Boaters across the region should be careful when navigating the lakes and rivers for this reason. There are also fish and wildlife impacts related to low water, although natural occasional lows and highs can have beneficial ecosystem effects in the long run,” he added.
The other lakes around the area of Sioux Lookout are also witnessing inadequate levels. DeWolfe stated that across the English River watershed, flows and water levels are much lower than normal, with most well below the 1-in-10 year low for August. He added that while the water levels of the MAPB lakes (Minnitaki, Abram, Pelican and Botsford Lakes) have only been recorded at Pelican Lake since 2009, this August is seeing the lowest level measured. DeWolfe shared Pelican Lake’s level as of August 10 to be 356.71 m.
DeWolfe shared, “Upstream of Sioux Lookout along the English River, the water level at Umfreville has records dating back 100 years. Today’s level is the lowest at this time of year for that period, 15 cm below the previous record. At McDougall Mills, the Sturgeon River, which flows into the English River at Sioux Lookout, has records back to 1961. The August levels this year for this river are the lowest on record. These new records for rivers that feed the MAPB lakes illustrate the exceptionally low water conditions in the region.” He added, “One exception is Pakwash Lake downstream of Lac Seul where operations at the Manitou Falls Generating Station have kept water levels closer to normal.” DeWolfe shared that as of August 10, the level of English River at Umfreville was 393.74 m, with a flow of 12.5 cubic meters per second, Pakwash Lake’s level was 346.15 m, and Sturgeon River at McDougall Mills flow to be 13.5 cubic meters per second.
Daily updated water levels and weekly updates to the LWCB’s Notice Board are available at www.lwcb.ca. Any questions or comments may be referred to LWCB’s staff, the Lake of the Woods Secretariat, at [email protected] or call 800-661-5922.