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Since 2008, we have believed that Hay River could rest easy and not worry too much about the river from which the town gets its name.

That was the year of the last significant flooding during breakup.

And for over a decade, the Hay River would meekly break up in the spring. It gave us the impression that things had somehow changed, perhaps permanently and perhaps because of climate change.

Of course, this year has proven that assumption to be completely and utterly incorrect.

The Hay River still seems to be as unpredictable as ever, and people who think they know how the river will behave believe that at their own peril. And we included ourselves among those deluded people, at least until this year.

Let’s just reflect on what has happened so far in 2020.

There was no significant flooding this year, but that seems to have been a matter of luck more than anything else. There was so much water coming down the river during breakup that Vale Island was evacuated.

The absence of a flood this year was simply a matter of the ice moving out of the West Channel in the absolutely perfect way. If there is the same amount of water heading towards us next spring, we may not be so lucky and there may indeed be a major flood.

After breakup, two boil-water advisories had to be issued. The first one was issued on May 13 and remained in place for over a month before being lifted on June 16. But just three days later on June 19 another boil-water advisory was issued and that remained in place until July 6.

We got so used to buying bottled water that we’re still doing it from a stack that has never disappeared from The Rooster.

The last time there was a boil-water advisory in Hay River and area was in 2011.

And all summer, the Hay River has had uncommonly high water.

There was so much water going over Alexandra Falls south of Enterprise that the GNWT had to restrict access to the area for safety reasons.

The only way to describe it is the Hay River has looked swollen since breakup. It is hard to figure out where all the water is coming from south of us.

And we watched as a bizarre amount of driftwood floated down the river. Driftwood is still washing up on the beaches along Great Slave Lake.

Simply put, this has been a weird year for the Hay River.

Of course, it’s no news to anyone that there has been a lot of rain this year. And that may be the simple explanation for our wild river of 2020.

However, there’s a bigger lesson to be taken from the behaviour of the Hay River this year – nature is totally unpredictable.

That will not come as a surprise to anyone, but it is good to be reminded every once in a while that we are at the mercy of nature.

That’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it will always be.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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