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Outflow drop to affect mill power


Dropping output levels on Rainy Lake will decrease the mill’s ability to create power at its dams but it isn’t known yet by how much.

Bob Anderson, communications officer with Boise Cascade in International Falls, expected to know next week what impact the possible one-third reduction in outflow from Rainy Lake will have on its power-creating abilities.

“We will be sharing the lower than minimum flow with Abitibi-Consolidated,” he said yesterday. “[But] we’ve been under reduced flow and hydro power since way back in March.”

Any power the Abitibi-Consolidated mill here generates goes directly to the Ontario Hydro grid, which, in turn, reduces the amount of power it has to purchase from the company.

But with nothing really running at the Abitibi mill here because of the strike, a reduced ability to generate power isn’t going to have a big impact right now.

“We’re running three turbines and they’re not on full capacity,” noted Devin Eldridge, project engineer at Abitibi, adding if the water levels were up, all eight would be running.

“It will have some impact cost-wise. The low water has a big impact,” he said.

But the mill’s reduced power capabilities won’t have any impact on local consumers.

“We buy our power directly from Ontario Hydro. We don’t purchase any power directly from the mill,” Mark McCaig, business and technical administrator with the local Public Utilities Commission, stressed yesterday.

The International Joint Commission announced Monday it intended to issue a supplementary order to cut the minimum outflow from 103.4 cubic metres per second to 63.7 cubic metres per second until the water level on Rainy Lake is back within the rule curve.

But that won’t stop the water level from dropping because the inflows are stiller smaller than its outflow (on Aug. 12, the inflow was only 20 cubic metres a second).

The move is just going to reduce the rate of decline, and hopefully buy a bit of time until the area gets some rain.

“[The lake level] is going to continue to decline anyway,” agreed Rick Walden, engineering advisor to the Canadian section of the Rainy Lake Board of Control, which acts as the “eyes and ears” of the IJC on the lake.

“[But] the lower it goes, the more problems it is going to cause for people using the lake,” he added.

And if there isn’t a full recovery in the lake level, it could have an environmental impact on the flora and fauna, especially any fall spawning, Walden said.

Low water levels also would impact the mills’ ability to generate power over the winter, he added.

“When we get down to this level, it’s not good for anybody. It’s just a matter of degree,” he said.

If the outflow isn’t reduced, Rainy Lake is expected to reach its emergency condition level--336.68 m on the low end--within the next few weeks.

“We’re about 12 cm above that,” Walden said, noting the lake was dropping about six cm a week.

If the supplementary order is approved, the outflow won’t be dropped by the full amount right away. It will go down to about 85 cubic metres per second in one step, Walden said, then gradually be reduced from there.

That way, it will give habitat a chance to adjust since it will mean a further drop in level of Rainy River, noted Ministry of Natural Resources biologist John Vandenbroeck.

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