Complaints dried up as water levels dropped

“The boards are not God and can’t make it rain!” said Gord Roberts, Canadian commissioner of the International Joint Commission (IJC).
That was really the only concern addressed at the second-annual joint meeting of the International Rainy Lake Board of Control and International Rainy River Water Pollution Board, which was held Friday morning at the Rainy River Legion.
A similar meeting also was held last Thursday night at the Holiday Inn in International Falls.
Last year, people attended the meetings in droves to complain about the high water levels produced last June when the area received its second-highest rainfall in recorded history.
But then after that storm, the rain virtually dried up as the watershed experienced its driest period since 1912 from September, 2002 to June, 2003.
Col. Bob Ball of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a brief presentation showing the inflow charts for Namakan Lake and Rainy Lake over the past year.
He noted levels on Rainy Lake dropped below the rule curve (the recommended operating range) this spring and recently reached drought line levels.
“We try to manage and balance a series of lakes to the least detriment to all involved,” Col. Ball explained.
With that in mind, they actually kept outflows on Rainy Lake into the Rainy River higher than they should have for a period of about two-and-a-half weeks after the levels dropped below the rule curve.
“We stayed at 100 cubic metres per second to help the sturgeon spawn,” said Col. Ball. “This was agonizing because we knew the folks on Rainy Lake would be suffering more than they thought they should.
“But we did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Not to anyone’s surprise, the turnout for Friday morning’s meeting was small with only 24 people on hand, including about a dozen officials with the IJC, the two boards, and other government agencies.
“When the water is high, we get a lot of people at these meetings, usually to complain,” said Commissioner Roberts.
One question was asked with regards to what is being done on Lake of the Woods to help the situation on Rainy Lake.
Rick Walden, of the Lake of the Woods Water Control Board, noted the outflow there is at a minimum, with only 150 cu. m/s flowing into the Winnipeg River system.
The average outflow for this time of year is about 460 cu. m/s.
Ed Eaton, U.S. Engineering Advisor, asked if anyone locally had any navigation issues.
A few noted that in some places, people can’t get their boats in the water and that there are a lot more sandbars getting hit.
“We don’t think there is a crisis situation downstream [from Rainy Lake] yet, but if there is, we will consider increasing the outflow of Rainy Lake,” Eaton said.
Both Eaton and Walden said Rainy Lake is starting to recover as there has been some rain in the area. But they added it is a big lake and takes a long time to rise.
They did say more rain would help, but that is up to Mother Nature.
Commissioner Roberts noted efforts are afoot to try and create a basin board that would help make decisions for the entire watershed rather than having one board for Rainy Lake, Rainy River, and Lake of the Woods all making decisions independently.
He said after the meeting that he thinks it would be a good idea, but noted some of the boards involved in the amalgamation process are resisting the change.