New Brunswick boat owners lament low water levels on Saint John River

Click to play video: 'N.B. boater says water levels at worst this year due to dry weather' N.B. boater says water levels at worst this year due to dry weather
The hot, dry weather this summer across the Maritimes has been great for outdoor activities. However, in some parts of New Brunswick, the drought is making it difficult for boaters to enjoy their craft. Tim Roszell has more – Aug 19, 2020

A summer drought in New Brunswick has made it more challenging for many boaters to enjoy their craft this year as water levels have plunged in the Saint John River.

Rob Stewart, the commodore of the Saint John Power Boat Club in the city’s north end, has been waiting several weeks for a new engine to arrive from Quebec for his boat. He said the engine was damaged during last boating season when it picked up mud and silt from the bottom of the Saint John River.

Stewart said water levels have been dropping consistently over the last five years, but this year is the worst so far.

“Our channel … usually runs eight to 10 feet (deep) at any time,” Stewart began. “You’re lucky at low tide to pick up three feet or three-and-a-half feet, which is extremely hazardous for any boats coming or going.”

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Stewart said boaters have to time their arrivals and departures to coincide with high tide, leaving some waiting hours or a full day before they can move. He said some boats have been damaged when bottoming out, leading to thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Longtime club member Doug Hickman’s sailboat features a steel bottom, making it more sturdy and able to withstand some contact with the ground. He said that came in handy only days ago.

“I returned from Nova Scotia on Friday,” Hickman said. “And we came through on a high slack, and I plowed a ditch in. So even at the optimum time, it still wasn’t high enough.”

Hickman said he needs about five-and-a-half feet of water in the channel to make it through smoothly. Right now, his boat remains at the dock.

Channel markers help guide boats in, but Stewart said the water outside of those markers behind Harbour View High School and the New Brunswick Museum are often only two feet deep. He said it disappears during low tide.

Stewart said it’s also been several decades since the channel was dredged. With an estimated $500,000 price tag, he said governments aren’t interested in helping, and his club can’t afford it.

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Read more: New Brunswick farmers hope for wet July after hot and dry June

Global News Meteorologist Anthony Farnell said a hot, dry summer in New Brunswick is contributing to low water levels. He said the southern part of the province has only received 50-60 per cent of its average rainfall this year, while the north has had only about 40 per cent.

Temperatures are running 2-4 degrees above normal, he said.

“So you increase evaporation, that takes the moisture out of the ground, and it further reduces those river levels,” Farnell said. “And I don’t see any big changes as we move from August into September.”

Hickman said he may have to dock elsewhere if conditions don’t improve.

“There’s some pretty nice places out there other than here, yes,” Hickman said.

Farnell said tropical storms may bring “too much of a good thing” later in the season.

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