With Atikokan facing a water shortage crisis for three weeks now, some are wondering if the low levels of Rainy Lake and Rainy River will have a similar effect here.
But Bruce Spottiswood, superintendent of works (facilities), didn’t think so.
“I don’t see anything like that happening in our future,” he said last week. “We’re handling everything just fine right now at the [water treatment] plant.”
Spottiswood also said Fort Frances residents should not be worried about a water ban. “We’re not having a problem with people as long as they stick to the odd and even day watering schedule,” he noted.
Still, there’s no doubt the lake and river levels are very low.
“Currently, Rainy Lake is about 2.2 feet below the International Joint Commission lower curve,” said Rick Walden, engineering advisor to the Rainy Lake Board of Control. “However, they could become dangerously low without more rainfall.
“Inflows are the lowest we’ve seen since they started recording it in 1912,” he added.
In fact, the IJC announced Monday it is planning to issue a supplementary order to reduce the flow out of Rainy Lake to below minimum levels (from the current average of 103.4 cubic metres per second to 63.7 cubic metres per second), which could affect communities that get their water supply from Rainy River.
The stream flow at Manitou Rapids, for instance, already is three times lower than average.
But in looking to reduce the minimal outflow, Walden stressed it would never be to the point of jeopardizing Emo’s town water supply.
“The IJC, through the board of control, is in constant contact with the operator of the plant in Emo,” MNR biologist John Vandenbroeck noted yesterday, adding all the communities downstream have been consulted.
“We’ve asked them to step it down slowly,” he added, explaining that would give the habitat time to adjust (the dissolved oxygen levels of the river also will be monitored to ensure the fish have an adequate supply).
“The river here is all right but it won’t be good if we don’t get any rain soon,” agreed Keith Paterson, an engineer at the Emo water treatment plant.
“We’re running at 12 inches above our intake right now,” he added. “It was proposed that we lower it but we can’t have it lower than it is right now without people lowering their use of water.”
At the request of council, Emo residents have been rationing their water after being urged to use their better judgment in cutting back on water use, including watering lawns and gardens.
In Rainy River, though, things are looking better. Mayor Gord Armstrong said their plant’s intake was about 20 feet below the surface so a further drop in tthe river wouldn’t threaten the water supply.
But he added it would affect dock access on the river.
And despite relatively little rainfall, Barwick’s well-based water supply has not been in jeopardy up to now, either.
“We haven’t heard of any wells running dry,” said Cheryl Hagen, spokesperson at the municipal office. “They seem to be doing okay. The water table is low but we don’t foresee any problems here.”
At the same time, fears of a water shortage are not unfounded because rainfall is something difficult to predict. In the meantime, area residents may want to watch how they use their water.
And if the snowfall this winter is not adequate, the low water levels could really impact local communities down the road.