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June 2022

Longer Range Winnipeg River Basin Outlook

Throughout the spring, the LWCB has received requests for forecasts of the peak level for Lake of the Woods and areas along the Winnipeg and English Rivers. Because the levels of these water bodies are influenced by the amount of rainfall across the large watershed, it was not possible to provide peak estimates well in advance, as accurate forecasts of this rainfall are not available weeks ahead of time.

Now that Lake of the Woods appears to have crested, many are wondering how long it will take for a return to normal water levels on the lake and along the Winnipeg River downstream (as the lake drops, so does the outflow into the Winnipeg River).

As was the case while the lake was rising, it is not possible to develop a forecast for the rate of drop in the level over the long term because the rainfall is unknown. However, using some assumptions about upstream water supply and the hydraulics of the system, the Secretariat has developed reasonable scenarios for how the lake level drop might develop in the coming weeks and months. Scenarios are not forecasts, they are possible outcomes if certain assumptions are correct. A wide range of water level outcomes are still possible for the remainder of the summer and fall.

Current basin conditions – Lake of the Woods and Winnipeg River Sub-basin

Following the record precipitation across the Rain-Lake of the Woods watershed in April and again in May, the levels of rivers and lakes around the region reached extremely high levels, many setting new records by a large margin. While many of the rivers in the system have returned to normal water levels and flows, Rainy Lake remains very high and the dam there remains fully opened (this dam is not under the jurisdiction of the LWCB). The higher the level of Rainy Lake is, the higher the outflow when the dam is fully opened. This has meant a long period of extremely high flow down the Rainy River into Lake of the Woods, even as smaller lakes and rivers around Kenora are returning to normal levels.

The large lakes and rivers are serving as the main collectors and conveyors of the record spring runoff, much of which is still making its way downstream through the watershed. This is a natural process that will take many weeks.

The large lakes and rivers in the watershed remain high as they collect and drain the record spring runoff into downstream rivers and lakes

Outlook – Lake of the Woods and Winnipeg River

This flood can be thought of as a wave moving from upstream to downstream. The large lake furthest upstream, Lac la Croix, peaked first, followed by Namakan, then by Rainy Lake, and now Lake of the Woods. In each case, the drop after the peak is gradual but picks up pace. Lake of the Woods will follow the same trend, provided the weather remains favourable across the basin.

This process will take time, however, as Lake of the Woods is at the highest level since 1950. To return to the normal operating range, 323.39 m (1061.0 ft), will require a drop of 72 cm (2.4 ft) from today’s level (the top of the operating range is still 60 cm (2 ft) above the chart datum for Lake of the Woods).

Should a sustained period of hot and dry weather develop across the watershed, the level could reach the normal operating range in mid-August. A return to wet weather, however, would slow the drop in lake level. Extremely wet weather, as occurred September 2019,  would see levels  rising again, pushing back the return to the normal operating range into the late fall.

The dams in Kenora will remain fully opened until a level of at least 323.47 m (1061.25 ft) is reached. As the lake drops through the summer, the outflow will also fall, and the level of the Winnipeg River in Ontario will gradually drop. The level will drop more quickly once the lake is back within the normal operating range and larger outflow reductions can be made.

Current basin conditions – Lac Seul and English River Sub-basin

The English River basin also saw record April and May precipitation, leading to most river gauges across the region setting new records. These extreme flows peaked in most areas in June and have been dropping, but still remain high.

Unlike Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul is not constrained in its outflow and the lake level has not risen out of control. However, to maintain the lake level within the legislated limits in the face of record spring inflow, the LWCB directed very high outflows from Lac Seul. The combination of record flows from smaller tributaries and high flows out of Lac Seul resulted in record high water levels along the English River down to its confluence with the Winnipeg River near Boundary Falls, Ontario.

Outlook – Lac Seul and English River

Following generally drier weather in recent weeks, the LWCB has begun directing flow cuts at Lac Seul this week, with more planned next week. With favourable weather, the level of the main body of Lac Seul is expected to very gradually fall over July while the level of Lost Lake at Hudson would fall to be closer to that of the main lake by late July.

Along the English River below Lac Seul, the combination of declining flows out of the natural tributaries and the flow cuts out of Lac Seul should see the river dropping more quickly through July. A drop of 60-90 cm (2-3 ft) in July is possible under dry or moderately dry weather conditions. However, a drop of 150 cm (5 ft) is needed to return to normal summer levels, and this is not likely before mid-August. A return to wet weather would slow the rate of decline, and extremely wet weather could see levels rising again this summer or fall.

2022.06.29 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.11 m (1063.3 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 2 cm (1 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

Upstream of Lake of the Woods, the larger lakes, Namakan and Rainy, have peaked and are falling. Tributaries in the Rainy River basin have also been in decline following generally drier weather in June. This has resulted in Lake of the Woods inflow generally stabilizing recently. The peak lake level may be reached sometime this week or next with drier weather forecasted for the next 7 days. A return to normal Lake of the Woods summer levels is unlikely before mid-August regardless of precipitation.

As the lake level stabilizes, the outflow from the lake will also stop rising. This will result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki, as well as below Norman Dam, to remain constant and change very little over the next week.

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.80 m (1170.6 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul authorized outflow was reduced to 650 m³/s on Wednesday, June 29, and a second reduction to 600 m³/s is scheduled for Monday, July 4. The lake level has peaked and is expected to decline over the next week.

2022.06.27 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.11 m (1063.3 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 3 cm (1 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

Upstream of Lake of the Woods, the larger lakes, Namakan and Rainy, have peaked and are falling. Tributaries in the Rainy River basin have also been in decline following generally drier weather in June. This has resulted in Lake of the Woods inflow generally stabilizing recently. The peak lake level may be reached sometime this week or next with drier weather forecasted for the next 7 days. A return to normal Lake of the Woods summer levels is unlikely before mid-August regardless of precipitation.

As the lake level stabilizes, the outflow from the lake will also stop rising. This will result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki, as well as below Norman Dam, to remain constant and change very little over the next week.

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.81 m (1170.6 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul authorized outflow was reduced to 700 m³/s on Monday, June 27. The lake level has peaked and is expected to decline over the next week.

2022.06.24 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.10 m (1063.3 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 3 cm (1 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

Upstream of Lake of the Woods, the larger lakes, Namakan and Rainy, have peaked and are falling and tributaries in the Rainy River basin have also been in decline following generally drier weather in June. This has resulted in lake of the Woods inflow generally stabilizing recently. However, rainfall forecasted for the weekend would result in a brief spike in inflow due primarily to rainfall directly on the lake. With this rainfall, the level of Lake of the Woods is expected to rise by a total 5 to 11 cm (2 to 4 in) over the next 7 days, with most of the rise occurring over the weekend. The peak lake level will depend on rainfall in the following days and weeks. Drier weather could see a peak after this week but wet weather would delay this. A return to normal Lake of the Woods summer levels is unlikely before mid-August regardless of precipitation.

As the lake level rises slightly, the outflow from the lake will also gradually rise. This will result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki rising slightly, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam is expected to be 2-4 cm (1-2 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.83 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s. A reduction in outflow, to between 650 -700 m³/s, is planned for Monday, June 27, the rate dependent on rainfall received over the weekend.

The following forecast for the Winnipeg River in Manitoba was provided by Manitoba Hydro.

2022.06.22 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.09 m (1063.3 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 4 cm (1 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

The level of Lake of the Woods is expected to rise slightly over the next 7 days with an increase of 2 to 5 cm (0.5 to 2 in). There continues to be short-lived precipitation events predicted in the forecast. This, in combination with the general trend of average precipitation so far in the month of June (see map below), is causing inflows to the lake to remain stable or decrease very slowly. If this weather pattern continues, it could temporarily delay reaching a peak and a return to normal summer levels will likely take many weeks. A return to more sustained wet weather could result in a second, higher peak.

As the lake level rises slightly, the outflow from the lake will also very gradually rise. This will result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki to rise slightly, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam is expected to be 3-5 cm (1-2 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora, of up to 2.5 cm (1 in) at Minaki. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.82 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul inflow continues to decline steadily. Therefore the lake level remained stable over the past week and may be at it’s peak. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s with no changes currently scheduled.

Conditions throughout the basin have remained stable since the beginning of June, with short-lived, scattered precipitation events bringing average amounts of rainfall for most areas of the basin. Compared to average rainfall totals for the period of June 1st to today, most of the basin has received 60 to 100% of these totals, with few pockets of slightly higher or lower amounts. This return to normal weather conditions will help lake levels reach a peak and if sustained, will result in the steady decline of lake levels over the course of the summer.

2022.06.20 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.08 m (1063.2 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 5.5 cm (2 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

The level of Lake of the Woods is expected to rise slightly over the next 7 days with an increase of 2 to 8 cm (0.5 to 3 in). There is some uncertainty in the forecast related to a cold front passing through the basin on June 21st. Where this line of thunderstorms tracks and how severe local precipitation could be will directly effect the amount of rise seen on the lake level this week. This forecasted precipitation could temporarily delay reaching a peak and a return to normal summer levels will likely take many weeks. A return to more sustained wet weather could result in a second, higher peak.

As the lake level rises slightly, the outflow from the lake will also very gradually rise. This will result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki to rise slightly, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam is expected to be 5-7 cm (2-3 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora, of up to 2.5 cm (1 in) at Minaki. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.85 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul inflow continues to decline steadily. The resulting rise in lake level was 3 cm (1 in) over the past week and the lake may be near a peak. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s with no changes currently scheduled.

2022.06.17 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.06 m (1063.2 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 6 cm (2 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

The level of Lake of the Woods is expected to remain quite stable or rise very little over the next 7 days with an increase of up to 2 cm (0.5 in). Should weather remain favourable, the lake level may be near a peak. However, a return to normal summer levels will likely take many weeks. A return to wet weather could result in a second, higher peak.

As the lake gradually stabilizes, the outflow from the lake will change little. This should result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki to also stabilize, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam is expected to be no more than 1-2 cm (0.5 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora, reaching less than 1 cm (0.5 in) at Minaki. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.83 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul inflow remains high, but is gradually declining. The resulting rise in lake level was 4 cm (1 in) over the past week. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s with no changes currently scheduled.

The following forecast for the Winnipeg River in Manitoba was provided by Manitoba Hydro.

2022.06.16 Update on Conditions

Conditions throughout the basin are slowly improving as the extremely wet conditions seen in April and May are being replaced with drier conditions so far in June. Precipitation since the beginning of the month has remained at or below average for all areas of the basin. The map and table shown below indicate that total basin mean precipitation amounts for the first two weeks of June were less than 10 mm (0.5 in) for most of the basin and no more than 25 mm (1 inch) for northern portions of the basin. These amounts correspond to a range of 17th to 32nd percentile, which is less than normal.

Basin mean precipitation June 1- 15 / Source: Canadian Precipitation Analysis
June 1 – 15 Precipitation Totals for Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul

These much drier conditions have caused all tributary flows to drop significantly and most are now approaching high normal levels for this time of year. With less water in the system, all major lake inflows have also peaked and are steadily trending downward. As lake inflows are approaching lake outflows, the rise in lake levels are also gradually decreasing.

In the short term, these decreases in flows and levels are highly dependent on continued dry conditions with even moderate rainfall pausing the return to normal conditions. As the basin continues to drain and tributary conditions return to normal, the lake levels will follow suit and continue to drop. This process will take many weeks and high lake levels for the major lakes and rivers are expected to continue throughout July and into August.

2022.06.15 Level Forecast

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.05 m (1063.1 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 6.5 cm (2 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

The level of Lake of the Woods is expected to remain quite stable over the next 7 days with a decrease of less than 1 cm (0.5 in) or an increase of up to 2 cm (1 in), depending on the rainfall received across the region. Should weather be favourable, the lake level may be near a peak. However, a return to normal summer levels will likely take many weeks. A return to wet weather could result in a second, higher peak.

As the lake gradually stabilizes, the outflow from the lake will change little. This should result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki to also stabilize, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam is expected to be no more than 1-2 cm (0.5 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora, reaching less than 1 cm (0.5 in) at Minaki. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.83 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul inflow remains very high, resulting in a rise of 6 cm (2.5 in) over the past week. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s with no changes currently scheduled.

2022.06.13 Level Forecasts

The current level of Lake of the Woods is 324.03 m (1063.1 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. The average lake level rose by 6 cm (2.5 in) over the past week. The lake level has risen above the 2014 peak of 323.78 m (1062.29 ft) and is below the record peak since regulation began of 324.31 m (1064.0 ft), set in July of 1950. The dams in Kenora remain fully open and no additional actions can be taken to limit lake level rise.

The level of Lake of the Woods is expected to rise by approximately 5-8 cm (2-3 in) over the next 7 days, depending on the rainfall received across the region. Should weather be favourable, a peak may be reached by the end of June followed by a gradual drop. However, a return to normal summer levels will likely take many weeks and will be delayed should there be a return to wet weather.

As the lake continues to rise, the outflow from the lake will very gradually rise. This should result in the level of the Winnipeg River between Kenora and Minaki also gradually rising, with any local precipitation adding temporarily to levels in this stretch of the river. The Winnipeg River level rise over the next 7 days below Norman Dam expected to be 3-6 cm (1-2 in) with less rise further downstream from Kenora, reaching 1-2 cm (1 in) at Minaki. 

The current level of Lac Seul is 356.82 m (1170.7 ft), over 95th percentile level for this time of year. Lac Seul inflow remains very high, resulting in a rise of 7 cm (3 in) over the past week. Lac Seul authorized outflow is 800 m³/s with no changes currently scheduled.