Water levels on Ootsa Lake low

Officials say reservoir levels are at a normal level for this time of year.

Residents of Ootsa Lake continue to express their concerns over the water level in the lake, which they say is at an historic low.

Multiple reports from residents who live out near Ootsa Lake say they have never seen the water level in the lake this low, and that many of them are having trouble with their water lines due to the low water level in the lake.

One report from a resident said that in all the years he’s lived out by Ootsa Lake, he’s never seen the water level in the lake that low.

Despite the concerns from residents, officials for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, as well as officials for Rio Tinto Alcan, the company that manages the Nechako Reservoir which Ootsa Lake is a part of, remain unconcerned and say that the water levels in the reservoirs are at normal levels as previous years, and that in the 14 years since reservoir data has been collected there have been instances where the water level in the reservoirs have been lower at this time in the year.

According to statistics provided by Rio Tinto Alcan, that the current reservoir elevation is about two feet below the long term average for this time of year, and there have been seven years where the reservoir level has reached a lower point than in 2014.

The current inflow forecast by Rio Tinto suggests that under average conditions the reservoir elevation will reach approximately 2795 feet.

The operating maximum is 2800 feet.

As well, information provided by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations back up the statistics provided by Rio Tinto.

As of 6 a.m. on May 22 the water level in the Nechako Reservoir, which supplies Ootsa Lake, at the Skins Lake Spillway was 9.795 metres and rising, about five centimetres per day.

At the same time last year the water level in the Nechako Reservoir was at 9.791 metres.

So what gives?

The water level at Ootsa Lake this past weekend was low enough that launching boats onto the lake was difficult at best, and nearly impossible at times.

The answer may lie in the snow packs.

According to Greig Bethel, Public Affairs Officer for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the snow pack the last two years has not been up to average.

“This year, snow packs in the Nechako watershed are very low,” Bethel said, “similarly, last year, snow packs in this region were low as well. Low snow packs result in low inflows to streams and lakes during spring melt, often resulting in lower water levels in lakes and reservoirs, especially when low snow packs occur in consecutive years.”

The low water level in Ootsa Lake increased speculation that dredging of the Tahtsa Narrows was occurring.

However, Bryan Tucker, media relations manager for Rio Tinto Alcan says that speculation is all that it is.

“Dredging the Tahtsa Narrows remains an option and would require environmental permitting and public support,” Tucker said.

“Dredging of the Tahtsa Narrows is not a project at this time.”

Below normal seasonal runoff during the spring melt increases the likelihood of low stream flows and drought conditions.

Spring and summer weather will be the key in determining whether or not drought and low flows will occur during the Nechako watershed during the summer and early fall.