Municipal Affairs and Environment

Churchill River Early Flood Warning and Alert System

 

Background

The Churchill River is located in the Labrador portion of Newfoundland and Labrador. It flows from the Smallwood Reservoir into Lake Melville draining an area of approximately 94,000 km2.

The upper Churchill River Basin that extends from the upstream basin boundary (i.e. headwaters) to the Churchill Falls Generating Station drains approximately 69,400 km2. Nearly 90 dams and dikes in the upper Churchill River basin direct flows to the Churchill Falls Generating Station. Prior to passing through the Churchill Falls Generating Station, water is stored in the approximately 7,000 km2 Smallwood Reservoir. The upper Churchill River basin includes several large lakes and tributaries, including Lobstick Lake, Michikatamu Lake, Atikonak River, McPhayden River, Ashuanipi River, McKenzie River, and Kepimits River (Reference Independent Review of Flooding at Mud Lake, 2017).

The middle Churchill River basin, which extends from the Churchill River Generating Station to the Muskrat Falls Generating Station Development, drains approximately 92,500 km2, of which 23,050 km2 is local drainage. Flow in the middle basin is largely regulated by the outflows from the Churchill Fall Generating Station; however local flow contributions due to snow melt and rainfall can represent a significant portion of the flow contribution in the basin. Major tributaries in the middle Churchill River Basin include Pinus River, Fig River, Metchin River, Lower Brook and Upper Brook (Reference Independent Review of Flooding at Mud Lake, 2017).

The lower Churchill River basin drains approximately 94,320 km2, of which approximately 1,850 km2 is local drainage. Flow in the middle basin is governed by outflows from the Churchill Falls Generating Station and local flow contributions from the middle and lower basins. The lower Churchill River basin conveys flow into Lake Melville prior to ultimately being conveyed to the Atlantic Ocean (Independent Review of Flooding at Mud Lake, 2017)

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Churchill River Water Level, Climate and Ice Information

Due to the volume and frequent updating of the water level and other data made available on this web site this data is considered to be PROVISIONAL because it has not undergone quality control checks. These data may be subject to significant change.

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Water Level and Climate Monitoring

The Water Resources Management Division (WRMD) monitors a series of hydrometric, climate and snow monitoring stations in the Churchill River Basin and uses the information collected for monitoring the river. The information from these stations can be seen here:

Quick View of the Churchill River Basin Near Real Time Data

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Churchill River English Point - Water Level Comparison 2016 - 2018

Water levels at English Point have been graphed for 2016, 2017, and 2018 from April 23rd to May 24th. Note that this station has an assumed elevation and is not geodetically tied-in (i.e., it is a measurement used to show the change in water level only). Monitoring the water levels at this point on the river show the water level rising due to ice build-up and then water levels dropping from when the ice cleared out. In 2016, water levels began to rise on May 5 and steadily increased until May 10. The ice cleared up on May 17 and water levels dropped back down. In 2017, water levels began to rise on May 10 and kept rising until May 18. The increase in water level in 2017 was much greater than it was in 2016. Stage for 2018 will be monitored to follow the process from ice build-up to break up for comparison purposes.

Churchill River at English Point Water Level Comparasion

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Ice Jam Risk Forecast for the Lower Churchill River

Ice jam events on the Lower Churchill River can lead to sudden and large increases in water level, such as those experienced by the Mud Lake community in 2012 and 2017.

Recognizing that this area is vulnerable to the formation of such events, Nalcor Energy retained Hatch Ltd. to explore the development of a simple predictive tool that could possibly be used to provide some warning of ice jam activity and flood risk in the area. This work has identified a noticeable link between ice jam activity and some key meteorological variables in the basin. Using this relationship, a simple tool was developed to track this risk.

Ice Jam Risk Forecasts

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Ice Monitoring

The WRMD uses a satellite-based river ice monitoring service that provides information on the location, extent and structure of river ice covers. The primary data source is satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. SAR technology is not affected by cloud cover and does not rely on the sun as a source of illumination. This means, images can be acquired day or night, independent of atmospheric conditions.

The river ice monitoring service is based on a combination of visual interpretation and semi-automatic processing of SAR imagery in near real-time. The processed imagery provides the following products:

  • Ice cover location
  • Interpretive ice classes
    • Open water
    • Non-consolidated or intact ice
    • Rafted/consolidated ice

Satellite Based RADAR Images and ice products for Lower Churchill River

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Ice Thickness Monitoring

Date Ice Thickness Measurements
2017/18 Monitoring Season
May 1 - 3, 2018 Report
Apr 17 - 19, 2018 Report
Apr 3 - 4, 2018 Report
Mar 21 - 22, 2018 Report
Mar 7 - 8, 2018 Report
Feb 20 - 22, 2018 Report
Feb 6 - 7, 2018 Report
Jan 23, 2018 Report
Jan 16 - 17, 2018 Report
Dec 16, 2017 Report
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Ice Thickness Measurement Using Ground Penetrating Radar

Ice surveillance activities on the Lower Churchill River are being carried out using new technology - helicopter-based ground penetrating radar (GPR) measurements. GPR is commonly used for on-ground geology investigations but using it on an airborne platform is a new application that is being developed for ice thickness measurement.

During the ice thickness survey the helicopter flies above the river and the GPR sensor emits a radar signal which is transmitted through the air and into the layers of snow, ice and underlying water. At the boundary between each layer the radar signal is reflected back to the GPR and recorded. This shows the air, water and ice layers. Ice thickness is calculated as the difference between the air/ice and the ice/water boundaries.

GPR measurements are being undertaken during the freeze-up and break-up periods, as well as during the ice season. In order to validate the helicopter-based GPR readings, field measurements of ice thickness are collected during the helicopter surveys, where possible, to validate the GPR measurements.

Date Ice Thickness Measurements Using GPR
2017/18 Monitoring Season
Apr 23, 2018
(The wet snow, a consequence of the previous week’s warmer weather, meant that ice thickness could not be reliably extracted from the GPR data.)
Ice Thickness
Borehole Measurements
Mar 6, 2018 Ice Thickness

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Mud Lake Crossing Videos

Date Videos
2017/18 Monitoring Season
Feb 25, 2018 Courtesy of Dave Raeburn (0.8 Gb)
Courtesy of Dave Raeburn (0.7 Gb)
2016/17 Monitoring Season
Feb 25, 2017 Courtesy of Dave Raeburn (1.2 Gb)

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Churchill River Maps

 

Variability of Sandbars and Islands in the Lower Churchill River Over Time

 Cloud-free LANDSAT imagery collected between 1972 and 2017 were analyzed to evaluate the occurrence of sandbars and islands in the Lower Churchill River. By limiting valid acquisition dates to October/early November, an attempt was made to select only images acquired before the onset of ice formation.

 Please note that the base map is provided for reference only and does reflect the historical conditions at the time of image acquisition.

Satellite Image Acquisition Date Satellite Sensor Spatial Resolution (m)
Oct 04, 1972 LANDSAT 1 MSS 80
Oct 09, 1976 LANDSAT 5 MSS 80
Oct 13, 1984 LANDSAT 5 TM 30
Oct 12, 1986 LANDSAT 5 MSS 80
Oct 11, 1989 LANDSAT 5 MSS 80
Oct 18, 1994 LANDSAT 5 TM 30
Oct 10, 2003 LANDSAT 7 ETM 30
Oct 04, 2004 LANDSAT 5 TM 30
Oct 31, 2005 LANDSAT 7 ETM 30
Oct 23, 2008 LANDSAT 7 ETM 30
Oct 27, 2009 LANDSAT 5 TM 30
Oct 21, 2010 LANDSAT 5 TM 30
Oct 18, 2012 LANDSAT 7 ETM 30
Oct 24, 2014 LANDSAT 7 ETM 30
Oct 03, 2015 LANDSAT 8 OLI 30
Oct 05, 2016 LANDSAT 8 OLI 30
Nov 09, 2017 LANDSAT 8 OLI 30

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Churchill River and Watershed Map Link

Watershed Map
View fullsize image

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Lower Churchill River Map

Lower Churchill River Map
View fullsize image

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Flood of 2017

As reported by the hydrometric station at English Point, water levels started increasing in the Churchill River on May 11th, 2017 Water levels began rising in Mud Lake on May 16th, 2017. The water rose to levels deemed unsafe on the early hours of May 17th, 2017 and the evacuation of residents from Mud Lake to Happy Valley-Goose Bay was initiated.

Stage at English Point Water Level Station on Churchill River

Graph for Water Level Station on Churchill River

 Extensive flooding was also reported in the Mud Lake Road region north of Happy Valley – Goose Bay on the western side of the Churchill River. Damage to properties in both areas was significant.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador committed to an independent review of the May 17, 2017 flooding event.

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Independent Review of Flooding at Mud Lake

On June 14, 2017, the Provincial Government announced the appointment of an independent expert, Dr. Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt, to lead an assessment of the cause of extensive flooding at Mud Lake that occurred on May 17, 2017. Dr. Lindenschmidt was supported by engineering consultant KGS Group in undertaking an independent and specialized review of the flooding. On September 29, 2017, Dr. Lindenschmidt submitted his final report to the Provincial Government:

Terms of Reference PDF Icon (2 MB)

Final Report PDF Icon (42 MB)

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Contact Us

Water Resources Management Division
Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment
2 Tenth Street
Happy Valley - Goose Bay, NL
A0P 1E0
Fax: 709 896-9566

Maria Murphy
Environmental Scientist
Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment
Tel: 709 896-7981
Email: mariamurphy@gov.nl.ca

Brenda Greene
Environmental Scientist
Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment
Tel: 709 896-5542
Email: BrendaGreene@gov.nl.ca

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