Following a decision in March to introduce a high flood risk rule curve to control the inflow and manage water levels on Rainy Lake, Namakan Lake and Rainy River over the spring and summer months, water levels remain stable.
The International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board's water levels committee provided an update on the rule curve during a public meeting last Monday evening at Rainy River Community College in International Falls.
The introduction of the rule curve was implemented to avoid a similar incident to the flooding in 2014 which saw high water levels and flood damage to several local areas.
Data gathered from 2014 weather reports are used as a direct comparison to evaluate the future potential risk of a flood.
So far this year falls within what the committee had foreseen as normal water levels. Considerable stipulations were put into place as the committee collaborated with dam operators to maintain water levels to avoid flooding.
Part of the board's commitment was to work closer with dam operates and other local agencies to determine and observe the overall health of the lakes.
The board decided to liaise with Rainy River First Nations, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to be environmentally conscious on the impacts the rule curve has on the lake's ecosystem.
Water Levels Committee Canadian co-chair Erika Klysejko explained the implementations and impacts to the lakes and surrounding area over the spring and summer months.
“One of the main things that was included in the main supplementary order is the removal for the stipulation for dam operators to target the mid-range of the band.”
“So, previously in the order dam operators always targeted the 25-75 percent,” said Klysejko.
“But, now they have the latitude to operate anywhere within that band. However, the water levels committee has the authority to direct them to target specific areas of the band, as the committee sees fit, depending on conditions or interests we are trying to bring benefits, too.”
She stated the flow coming into the lake at the time when the committee made their decision on the rule curve was quite high.
Several factors contributed to the decision made based on the high flow including the accumulated snowpack which was higher than normal this year and the winter severity index.
She mentioned the fisheries had also voiced their concern during the process as the water levels could negatively impact several spawning areas for fish.
This added to the board's decision to be more environmentally conscious in their efforts.
Unfortunately, during the spring, the committee announced they had experienced an emergency with water levels involving the mill.
Under the advisory of the committee, dam operators were directed to release more water as levels at the dam began to creep over the 75 percent target range on April 23.
Klyszejko explained the release of water caused the water level right at the dam to drop. This led to an incident at the mill where they were no longer able to bring water in for their operations.
“From our understanding, they didn't have enough significant water for the cooling of the mill and its operation, so cooling of the plant during their use of production of pulp and paper.”
The committee plans to formalize communication between themselves and local agencies and make the information public.
Operational guidelines are now being published and the intent is for it to be a “living document” and receive ongoing reviews.
The board was clear they want to be more transparent and have active communication on all data involving the rule curve and decision-making process.
The committee will study the parameters of having continuous low levels of water for multiple springs and the effects it may have on the lakes.