A vibrant red sunset over Rainy Lake in Fort Frances, ONT, 2022

Water level notices

As per the current Order, the Water Levels Committee monitors hydrologic conditions and may provide the Companies with directions for the operation of their discharge facilities at Namakan Lake and Rainy River. Below are directions and updates provided by the Water Levels Committee.

Related information


Notices


The water level of Rainy Lake returned to the rule curves on June 13, 2024. The water level of Namakan Lake returned to the rule curves on May 31, 2024.

The water level targets for both Namakan and Rainy Lakes are the middle of their respective rule curves (25%-75% range) until further notice.
 


Namakan Lake returned to its rule curves on May 31st and the level on June 5th of 340.79 m (1118.08 ft) was at 63% of the band.  The water level target for Namakan Lake is the middle of the rule curves (25%-75% range) until further notice.  

Rain Lake level peaked on May 31st at 337.77 m (1108.17 ft). Outflow from Rainy Lake has been maximized, with 13 gates open at the International Falls/Fort Frances dams as of May 31st.  There are natural restrictions in the upper Rainy River that control how much flow the dams can release at certain Rainy Lake levels.  More information on the control of outflow from Rainy Lake is illustrated in a series of videos and a factsheet on the Board’s website.

Until Rainy Lake has returned to its rule curves, the number of gates open at the dam will be adjusted such that outflow is maximized as lake level conditions allow. Once in the rule curves, the water level target for Rainy Lake will be the middle of the rule curves (25%-75% range) until further notice. 


The International Joint Commission (IJC) supports the recent analysis and conclusions of the Water Levels Committee (WLC) in response to ongoing high levels and flows in the system resulting from recent high precipitation. The IJC has trust and confidence in the WLC's decision making, and specifically regarding its decisions on outflows, which are rendered more challenging in the context of high water levels and associated impacts both upstream and downstream of the dam. 


Conditions in the basin, specifically at Rainy Lake and on the Rainy River have changed over the last few days. When the WLC had met on Friday, May 24, Rainy Lake levels had begun to stabilize and were still below the maximum summer rule curve level (337.75 m). Daily inflows to Rainy Lake had peaked on May 22 and had been steadily declining. Downstream, on the Rainy River, flows and levels were still rising due to the increased outflow from Rainy Lake and increasing flows from the Big and Little Fork Rivers. The level on the Rainy River was climbing outside of its normal range, and at Manitou Rapids the level had increased by 2 meters (6.5 feet) since May 20, over a period of 4 days. With this information, and a relatively dry forecast, the WLC recommended a more modest outflow increase from Rainy Lake on May 24, with no further increases over the weekend.

Over the weekend, some local rainfall occurred directly on Rainy Lake, causing the level to rise 4.5 cm (1.8 inches) and to reach the top of the maximum summer rule curve level on May 28.  At the same time, both the Rainy River and Fork Rivers peaked, with flows and levels starting to decline as of Sunday, May 27.  The WLC met again on Tuesday, May 28, and observed that inflows to Rainy Lake are continuing to decrease and are closer to matching current outflow. Taking into consideration the recently declining flows and levels downstream, as well as some precipitation in the 7-day forecast, the WLC has recommended that operators return Rainy Lake to its rule curves as quickly as possible, with additional gate openings up to two gates per day. Two gate openings at the International Falls/ Fort Frances dam are scheduled for May 29. The water level target for Rainy Lake is to reach the middle of the rule curve (25-75% range) by the middle of June. 

Namakan Lake is beginning to stabilize, and there will be an additional outflow increase this week, so the lake level returns to its water level targets (25-75% range of its rule curve).


Over the past week, a total of 3 inches of precipitation fell across the Rainy River basin, with heavy rainfall occurring on May 21 and 22. Natural tributaries across the basin saw rapid rises in flows and levels, and as a result, inflows to Namakan Lake and Rainy Lake are also rising sharply.

This caused Rainy Lake to rise above its rule curve on May 21 and Namakan Lake to rise above its rule curve on May 23. Outflow from both lakes has increased both in anticipation and response to the precipitation. Most logs have been pulled from the Kettle Falls and Squirrel Falls Dams at the outlet of Namakan Lake, bringing outflow to 390 cms (~13,770 cfs).  At Rainy Lake, all hydropower turbines are running, and gate openings began on Thursday, May 23, bringing outflow to 680 cms (~24,014 cfs) on Friday, May 24.

Lake levels are being managed to get back in their rule curves, with the goal to be within the middle of the rule curves (25-75% band) by the middle of June, if conditions allow.
 


A storm system has developed to the south of the basin and is expected to bring heavy rainfall beginning tonight. With rainfall totals as high as 80 mm (3 inches), Rainy and Namakan Lake levels are predicted to rise above their rule curves. The Water Levels Committee is taking action to manage anticipated high inflows while considering impacts across the basin.  

Dam operators are increasing outflow from both lakes in response to the current and forecasted precipitation.  At Namakan Lake, logs were pulled from the Squirrel Falls dam on May 21 and more logs are scheduled to be pulled from the Kettle Falls dam on May 22.  At Rainy Lake, daily outflow increases began on May 18, with two larger increases occurring on May 21.  Flow at the Rainy Lake dam is passing through the powerhouse generators and opening of gates is scheduled to begin on Thursday, May 23. 

The water level at Namakan Lake is 0.34 meters (1.11 feet) below its maximum summer rule curve level and Rainy Lake is 0.22 meters (0.72 ft) below its maximum summer rule curve level as of May 21, 2024. The water level targets for both Rainy and Namakan Lakes have been updated to the middle band (25-75% range) of their prescribed rule curve when conditions allow. 

The Water Levels Committee will continue to monitor conditions and provide additional updates as conditions develop.

For forecast and flood warning details please refer to the National Weather Service and Province of Ontario websites.


The Water Levels Committee has extended the current water level targets through the period up to May 31st. Namakan Lake’s target will remain the top 50% band (top half) of the rule curve. The Rainy Lake water level target will remain between the 75% and 100% band (top quarter) of the rule curve, without going below the 100 cms (~3,530 cfs) minimum outflow and with outflow changes no larger than 25 cms (~880 cfs) at a time.  

Sturgeon spawning is beginning in the Rainy River and the WLC is closely monitoring outflow from Rainy Lake and its impacts to river spawning downstream under the Sturgeon Protocol.  The WLC will coordinate with operators to try to maintain steady outflows during the spawning period.


The Water Levels Committee has extended the current water level targets through the period up to May 15th. Namakan Lake’s target will remain the top 50% band (top half) of the rule curve. The Rainy Lake water level target will remain between the 75% and 100% band (top quarter) of the rule curve, without going below the 100 cms (~3,530 cfs) minimum outflow.

The Water Levels Committee understands that these targets can only be achieved if nature allows and flows into the lakes remain higher than outflows from the lakes. If dry conditions persist, these targets may not be achieved within the May 15 period. The Water Levels Committee will continue to monitor conditions and forecasts, updating targets as needed.


The Water Levels Committee hosted a virtual information session the evening of April 18 to provide an update on basin conditions and forecasts for the rest of spring. 18 participants attended the event online. The Lake of the Woods Secretariat and the National Weather Service- Duluth Office both presented, with the following key takeaways:


-This winter has seen historically high temperatures and a historically low snowpack across the basin. 
-Inflows to both Rainy and Namakan Lakes are in the lower range of normal for this time of year. 
-The very warm winter and below normal snowpack has left a below normal volume of water available for   spring runoff. Most of the snow in the basin has either melted or is in the process of melting. 
-Early spring precipitation has been below normal for this time of year. 
-The drought condition is categorized between abnormally dry and a moderate drought across the basin. 
-Long term forecasts indicate above normal temperatures for spring and equal chances of above and  below normal precipitation (no strong signal in either direction). 


The WLC continues to monitor conditions and is setting water level targets in response to the observed low inflows to the lakes.  The April 30th water level target for Namakan Lake is the 50-100% range of its rule curve and the target for Rainy Lake is the 75-100% of its rule curve, without going below the 100 cms (~3,530 cfs) minimum outflow. Considering the dry conditions summarized above, the Water Levels Committee understands that these water level targets can only be achieved if nature allows and flows into the lakes start increasing.
 


The Water Levels Committee has updated water level targets for the period up to April 30th. Namakan Lake’s target will be the top 50% band of the rule curve. The Rainy Lake water level target will remain between the 75% and 100% band (top quarter) of the rule curve, without going below the 100 cms (~3,530 cfs) minimum outflow.

The Water Levels Committee understands that these targets of stable or rising water levels can only be achieved if nature allows and flows into the lakes start increasing.  If dry conditions persist, these targets may not be achieved within the April 30 period.  The Water Levels Committee will continue to monitor conditions and forecasts, updating targets as needed.


The Water Levels Committee has updated water level targets for the period up to April 15th. Namakan Lake’s target will remain between 339.6 m (1114.17 ft) and the top of the rule curve. The Rainy Lake water level target will remain between the 75% and 100% band of the rule curve, without going below the 100 cms (~3,530 cfs) minimum outflow.

The Water Levels Committee understands that these targets of stable or rising water levels can only be achieved if nature allows and flows into the lakes start increasing.  If dry conditions persist, these targets may not be achieved within the April 15 period.  The Water Levels Committee will continue to monitor conditions and forecasts, updating targets as needed.
 


In accordance with the WLC spring regulation plan, the March 24th target water levels for Rainy Lake will be the top quarter of the rule curve (75-100% band) and Namakan Lake targets will be between lake elevation 339.6 meters and the top of the rule curve (approximately the top third of the rule curve).

The March 24th targets were established based on an evaluation of current basin conditions and concerns over drought, including the following factors:  
•    Conditions are drier than normal. 
•    Below-normal snow water equivalent in the entire basin.  
•    Seasonal forecasts (April through June) indicate warmer than normal temperatures and equal chances of above or below normal precipitation. 
•    Concerns over Rainy River fish spawning and potential low water conditions across the basin.  

The WLC will provide an update to water level targets after March 24th or earlier, based on basin conditions and forecasts.
 


On February 29, the WLC held its virtual Pre-Spring Engagement with a total of 51 participants. The webinar included an overview of basin conditions and spring outlook from the Lake of the Woods Secretariat and the National Weather Service, followed by an opportunity for questions and discussion. Key points from the presentations were as follows:

  • Conditions are drier than normal, though precipitation in late December and early February provided some relief.
  • Winter temperatures have been warmer than normal. 
  • There has been a historically low amount of snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) across the basin. 
  • There is some uncertainty in frost depth due to fluctuating temperatures, but soil moisture levels are dry to normal. The upper layers of soil in the basin are frozen due to the lack of snowpack that provides insulation. 
  • River forecast simulations (going through early-June) are showing lower chances of exceeding flood stage, but hard frost conditions could lead to enhanced runoff if heavy spring rains occur over the basin.  
  • Seasonal forecasts (April through June) indicate warmer than normal temperatures and equal chances of above or below normal precipitation. 

The WLC will continue to closely monitor conditions through the remainder of the winter and spring to inform water level targets for Namakan and Rainy Lakes. A list of websites with more information on water levels data is available here: https://www.ijc.org/en/rlwwb/water-level-information#2.

The WLC will host a public meeting at 7:00 p.m. on March 5 in International Falls, MN to provide an overview of regulation in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed and recap conditions and forecasts discussed during the Pre-Spring Engagement. 


To remain within the rule curves, Rainy Lake outflow has increased the past few weeks. Outflow from Rainy Lake increased to ~200 cms (~7,060 cfs) on January 16th. This increase is temporary and will be reduced to ~160 cms (~5,650 cfs) on January 20th to maintain Rainy Lake levels within the middle band of the rule curves. Increased flow to Rainy River has the potential to increase the amount of slush or water on the ice, which can make the surface more difficult or dangerous to use.

The Water Levels Committee encourages everyone to be extra cautious when near or on the ice, especially when there are fluctuations in temperatures and changes in water flows or levels. Information on ice safety is available on the Minnesota DNR website.


minor and short duration breach in Rainy Lake’s minimum flow occurred the morning of December 12. Operators were diligent to correct the outflow and no downstream impacts were observed.

Water level targets for Rainy and Namakan Lake continue to be the full range of their respective rule curves.


The water level targets for Rainy and Namakan Lakes are to maintain water levels in their prescribed rule curves, with no specific band within the rule curves.