Low water cripples service
Ferry shutdown could last until weekend

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 17/00) - Only a week after the ferry service resumed across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence, Yellowknife is once again cut off from vehicle access. And it could be two or three days before traffic will resume as low water levels keep the ferry tied up.

"With the water level so low in (Great Slave Lake...anything) that causes the flow change puts us in a critical situation," Les Shaw, director of marine services, said Tuesday.

Shaw believes it could be the end of the week before the ferry starts up again, allowing Highway 3 travellers to continue their journey. The Merv Hardie resumed service May 9, opening up the highway access to Yellowknife for the first time since the ice bridge was closed in mid-April. Officials are not sure what's to blame for the lack of water in the river, but speculated that it could be a blockage upstream of the crossing.

"The only thing that would explain such a low water level is an ice jam," said Randy Wedel from Water Survey of Canada, who is now investigating the situation.

"There should be enough outflow from Great Slave Lake to keep the water levels up at the Fort Providence crossing," he added. A resident in Fort Providence, who declined to give his name, told Yellowknifer if water levels don't increase soon people will be able to soon walk across the river.

"From town you can see rocks scattered all the way across," he said.

First warning of potential problems created by low water levels came in early May.

On May 3, Water Survey of Canada released its spring water level forecast, and predicted low water levels on Great Slave Lake, the Liard River and the Mackenzie River. The low water levels are the result of low precipitation in winter and fall and low snow packs in northern B.C.and Alberta.

Water level watchers are hoping for high rainfall this spring to boost water levels.

Officials say water levels are reaching historic lows set in 1995.

"We're looking at the situation right now," said Wedel. "All we have now is speculation."