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Will barge transport be thing of the past if low water continues?

Barge transport could cease to be viable in the Northwest Territories if water levels continue to drop, according to police and armed forces following an expedition up the Mackenzie River.

This month, RCMP and Joint Task Force (North) worked together to conduct two-week maritime patrols from Hay River to Tuktoyaktuk.

RCMP call their patrol of the river Operation Gateway. JTFN calls its own patrol Operation Nunakput.

Those who took part say low water levels on the river were an issue of urgent concern in many communities they visited.

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“It seems everybody is very concerned right now,” said Captain Chris Carthew, deputy commander of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group.

“Barges have been a critical part of life along the Mackenzie for ages. That means of transport is now potentially at risk – if not now then over the next several years, if things keep going the way they are going.

“People were telling us that the water levels in mid-July were equivalent to what they’d normally be in the middle of August. When we were in Tsiigehtchic, the water level dropped about six to eight inches overnight.”

Chris Carthew
Captain Chris Carthew, right, greets Dale Cardinal in Tsiigehtchic. Photo: Belinda Jeromchuk/JTFN.

Sergeant Jay Buckner, an Arctic intelligence officer for the RCMP, said low water levels could have “real economic impacts” on northern communities if the territory’s current drought does not end soon.

Buckner told Moose FM some barges are operating at 50 percent capacity, or less, in order to navigate unusually shallow waters.

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Operation Gateway saw an arrest made after a stolen boat was recovered by police taking part in the operation in Tsiigehtchic. RCMP said they were generally pleased with community engagement during this year’s patrol.

All parties involved in the two operations will now report back on potential improvements and cost efficiencies for next year’s event.

Recently, the territory’s environment minister – Michael Miltenberger – told Moose FM he was watching areas like California closely to study the lessons they are learning from acute drought.

A water security study is currently underway in the NWT. You can fill out a survey associated with the study here.

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