Potential failure at La Ronge dam concerns some locals

Water levels inching upward could breach the La Ronge Dam and send water gushing toward Stanley Mission.

That’s a concern for Lena Mckenzie, who runs Jim’s Camp, Nistowiak Falls with her family out of Stanley Mission. The Water Security Agency (WSA) reported the potential for dam failure on Wednesday. Her family was sandbagging one of the business’s cabins by Thursday.

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“The water hasn’t been this high for many, many years,” she said.

Rainfall around July 25 to July 26 has increased water levels to near record highs, Water Security Agency spokesman Patrick Boyle said. As of Thursday, the water was expected to rise to 364.99 metres, challenging the dam, which is protected up to 365.5 metres.

That left the potential for dam failure, which would result in a steady flow of water, adding more volume onto an already strained area in the Churchill River Basin, Boyle said. He expects the peak to come around Aug. 23.

“That doesn’t mean it’s going to fail, but it means it’s a serious situation,” he said.

Stanley Mission is downstream from the dam. The WSA lacks data on the area and aims to gather more information on any potential impact of it breaking, Boyle said.

“Any more water on top of this situation, and that could cause us more problems,” he added, noting that 500 sandbags had been delivered to reinforce the dam.

Mckenzie is watching for more information.

“I’m worried. I’m not sure what could happen. What can you do to prevent the damage?” she said. “… There’s nothing you can really do to prevent the dam from doing what it’s going to do.”

Other residents in the surrounding area said they’re less troubled.

La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich said a dam failure would be of more concern to the areas north of the town. While water levels in the community rose, that was concentrated more toward the Churchill River, he said.

“I don’t think it will really impact us, other than the water levels being higher up.”

Bryce Liddell, operator of Iskwatikan Lake Lodge, which is more than 60 kilometres northeast of La Ronge, said he’s optimistic that efforts to secure the dam will succeed.

“There’s worse things that can happen,” he said. “I’m just hoping that the dam stays in place and everything’s all right.”

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