LWCB optimistic for higher water levels this year
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
After two very dry years, it’s beginning to look like a better spring for our local lakes and rivers.
“I would say that the picture heading into the spring melt this year is certainly more favourable than it was last year, where we had come off a previous year of drought. The snowpack last year was at one of its lowest on record, so it was not looking very favourable last year at this time. A better outlook at this point but... nothing is guaranteed.”
This from Matt DeWolfe, Executive Engineer at Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB).
Speaking on how the spring looks to be shaping up for area waterways, DeWolfe continued, “We are definitely in the transition period from the extremely dry conditions we had last year and all the way back into 2020. It’s been a pretty extended period of drought, getting into severe and extreme categories of drought through 2021.”
Some relief in the form of heavy rains in the fall did help, however, with DeWolfe explaining, “Fortunately we did have some precipitation last fall that helped improve the situation somewhat, and there are areas of the watershed that are no longer classified as drought by the Canadian Drought Monitor. Those areas are pretty much in the Sioux Lookout area and to the east. Down around Lac Seul and further west along the English River there are still underlying drought conditions in the basin. This winter of course has seen quite a bit of snow in the region, and we expect that those drought conditions will be resolved with the melting of the snow.”
As DeWolfe explained, LWCB has already been hard at work planning for this year’s spring thaw, “In terms of operations, of course, Lake of the Woods Control Board is responsible for regulating the level of Lac Seul and the flows downstream of there in the English River. The board met in early March with members of stakeholder groups and resource agencies to take a look at what the strategies should be for this spring. Given that we are coming off of a drought period, but also have a pretty healthy snowpack, it really depends on what this spring brings in terms of rainfall. Both how much rain falls, and when it falls relative to when the snow goes.”
One reason for maintaining water levels is that healthy waterways are essential for the annual spring fish spawn,
“The board works closely with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, their fisheries experts in the Red Lake and Kenora districts, and the spring period is really a focus for the board for fisheries, both on Lac Seul, English River, and down on Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River as well,” DeWolfe explained. “Most of our spring spawners benefit from ample water conditions and it’s important that water levels not drop after spawning has begun, as that could expose the eggs, so that’s one key factor. Particularly for Lac Seul, reaching levels that are going to support key spawning areas around the lake is essential. If the lake is too low and those shoreline areas that are ideal for spawning don’t have enough water, then they won’t be suitable for spawning that year.”
Of course, as in all things weather related, nothing is guaranteed.
“If there are situations like we’ve seen in previous years where there is a healthy snowpack, but we have a couple of dry, warm, windy weeks in April, then a lot of that goes up into the air through sublimation. A lot of it doesn’t get into the ground, so it’s not a guarantee of moderate or above normal flows in the system just because there is a good snowpack. It all hinges on the rainfall, which we can’t predict, unfortunately, any better that any weather forecast.”