Hydro-Québec shuts down summer dam release near Nunavik

Harvesters in Kuujjuaq say the spill had minimal impact on water levels in the region

By SARAH ROGERS

The red marker indicates the location of the Duplanter spillway, which controls the release of water flowing from the Caniapiscau reservoir into the Caniapiscau River, a tributary of the Koksoak River. (IMAGE COURTESY OF GOOGLE MAPS)


The red marker indicates the location of the Duplanter spillway, which controls the release of water flowing from the Caniapiscau reservoir into the Caniapiscau River, a tributary of the Koksoak River. (IMAGE COURTESY OF GOOGLE MAPS)

Hydro-Québec has stopped a controlled dam release southwest of Kuujjuaq earlier than planned, and with minimal impact on the surrounding region, residents say.

The power corporation began a controlled water release July 20 from Caniapiscau reservoir—the largest in its James Bay hydroelectric project—to help manage high water levels in the region.

Since then, the spill released 750 cubic metres of water per second into the Caniapiscau River, a tributary of the Koksoak River, which skirts the community of Kuujjuaq and flows through to Ungava Bay.

Hydro-Québec stopped the release on Aug. 22, roughly a week earlier than planned, once the reservoir was about 87 per cent full.

“If we had not done these water releases, it would have been almost 95 per cent full,” said HQ spokesperson Francis Labbé.

“Now we have the flexibility to deal with [any significant] fall flood, should such a flood occur.”

When plans for the release were first announced, they were met with concern from community leaders in Kuujjuaq about the potential for rising water levels around the region.

Those fears stemmed from a larger, controlled dam release in the summer of 1984, the same year an estimated 9,000 caribou drowned during their fall migration southwest of Kuujjuaq.

But this year’s spill does not seem to have had an adverse impact on the outlying region—not just yet, at least.

“That’s what we’re assessing right now,” said Sammy Koneak, president of the Nayumivik Landholding Corp. and deputy mayor of Kuujjuaq.

“We’ve asked a few people who’ve been out camping and fishing this summer, but we haven’t noticed any problems so far.”

Koneak said he’ll have a better idea in the days to come; Hydro-Québec plans to do a flyover of the region sometime next week and intends to invite community representatives to take part.

To Koneak’s knowledge, no residents’ cabins or camps have been flooded since the dam release began, though one now-abandoned camp site upriver is reported to have been flooded.

Koneak said some harvesters have also noticed that their fishing nets have caught more twigs and other debris than usual.

He said Hydro-Québec also warned the river water could be murkier than usual this summer, but that hasn’t been the case.

“They’ve been pretty good at communicating with us,” Koneak said.

At this summer’s release rate, Hydro-Québec initially estimated water levels could rise up to 10 cm around Kuujjuaq and 30 cm in the Koksoak River estuary.

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