Jay Macdonald: Water Levels in the Northwest Territories

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Check against delivery

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss a significant issue affecting the Northwest Territories: the historic low water levels that have been observed over the entire Mackenzie River Basin.

Over the last four years, we have seen extremely variable water levels, likely related to climate change, from historic highs in 2020 and 2021 to record lows in 2023 and 2024. In this time of unprecedented variability, we are committed to giving residents, communities and stakeholders the best information and tools we can to inform planning and decision-making. As the ultimate downstream jurisdiction of the Mackenzie River Basin, we are also working with neighbouring jurisdictions to ensure shared waters of the Basin are managed in a way that maintains the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem.

Current low water levels in the NWT result from a number of factors in the last two years over the entire Mackenzie River Basin, including high temperatures, low rainfall and high evaporation rates. The consequences for residents and communities have included disruptions to marine transportation, reduced hydroelectricity production and visible changes to aquatic ecosystems.

To inform the decisions and planning of NWT residents, communities and stakeholders, the Government of the Northwest Territories proactively provides up-to-date information. The Department of Environment and Climate Change closely monitors water, snow and meteorological conditions and publicly shares important monthly and annual updates including NWT Water Monitoring Bulletins and the annual NWT Spring Water Outlook. During the spring break-up period when there is a risk of flooding, the department also provides regular, almost daily, Spring Break-Up Reports. Staff are also working with academic researchers and federal scientists to better understand how climate change and increased variability is expected to impact Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River in the future.

Mr. Speaker, communities at risk of flooding in the NWT are very interested in understanding how more variable water levels may impact their community’s risk of flooding. In the 10 NWT communities that are at highest risk of flooding, Environment and Climate Change is working with Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada, as well as the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and the Department of Finance’s Geomatics Division, to create new flood inundation and flood hazard maps. Preliminary flood inundation maps, which can be used to inform emergency planning, have already been developed for Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Fort Simpson and Aklavik, and are currently being updated based on the review and input of community leadership.

Mr. Speaker, current low water levels serve to remind us that waters in the NWT are affected by conditions in upstream jurisdictions. The Government of the Northwest Territories actively negotiates and implements transboundary water management agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions in the Mackenzie River Basin. These agreements play a crucial role in protecting the quality, quantity and aquatic ecosystem health of waters flowing into the territory.

Our ongoing collaboration with the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan through bilateral transboundary agreements and the Mackenzie River Basin Board underscores our commitment to protecting our shared waters. These are venues by which we can expect early and effective engagement, notification and sharing of information on developments and activities that might affect the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem.

Mr. Speaker, through data analysis, research, information sharing and partnerships, the Government of the Northwest Territories is actively working to address the challenges low water levels currently pose for residents, communities, and stakeholders. We are committed to safeguarding our water and supporting community resilience in the face of environmental change.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.