High water levels caused by flooding due to heavy ice built up in the Nechako River have subsided, slightly, for the time being.
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said Nechako River water levels had gone down as of Thursday, Jan. 14, from dangerously high levels just days prior, but noted they aren’t sure yet what the end result will be.
“There are some huge, powerful banks of ice, at least six feet high, stacked up in the river, and we don’t know what that means, what’s going to happen if that ever moves at all or does anything,” Thiessen told Black Press Media.
Concerns were initially sparked after water levels rose by approximately five feet in two days towards the end of December, forcing at least three families to evacuate due to damages to their properties along the river. In all, six properties were flooded, he said, caused by ice jams on the river.
Thiessen said the district has been in contact with Emergency Management BC, who started the process of making sure help is available should the community need it.
“We also had the river forecast group come out and take a look at the river, and did a flight from Prince George to Fort Fraser checking on the river.”
The provincial government and Rio Tinto are the bodies responsible for controlling spillway discharge from the reservoir during the winter.
“The concern, also, is we have much more water running through the Nechako River right now than we normally do,” Thiessen said. “Last year there was 31 to 32 cubic metres per second, and this year we’re at 84 to 85 cubic metres per second.
“The reservoir is only about two feet below the maximum that it can handle and we still haven’t got into the spring runoff plus, No. 2, we had a very wet fall.”
Rio Tinto BC Works’ manager of communication and communities Kevin Dobbin, in a previous interview with Black Press Media, said according to their forecasts, the risk of flooding is low.
“Most parts of the Nechako River freeze through the winter, and ice jams sometimes form, as well,” Dobbin said. “If Rio Tinto needs to increase or decrease spillway discharge through the winter, an ice stability survey will first be conducted to determine if it is safe to discharge and we will inform the community.”
The province and Rio Tinto, meanwhile, have sponsored the district in hiring a hydrologist to help them understand what the ice flow or ice pack means in the Nechako River.
“That was our biggest request,” Thiessen said, noting the district met with the hydrologist Wednesday, who will begin work this coming weekend. “We need to know what this means and how we go forward from here.”
Nechako Valley Search and Rescue said it had not been requested to assist with anything related to the ice jam flooding, however, does have 11 members trained in flat ice rescue, along with the necessary equipment, should they need to be called upon.
On Jan. 11, the district released a hazard warning for the Nechako River, noting significant river level fluctuations and ice jams, and requesting the public exercise extreme caution around the river.