Frozen Cities Liquid Networks: Landjacking the Mackenzie

[The amphibious landscape of Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories]

At 4,200 kilometres in length, the Mackenzie River in North-western Canada is one of the longest rivers in the world (11th). Its watershed, 1.8 million square kilometres in size, drains one-fifth of the country. The River, whose headwaters begin in the Peace and Athabasca rivers, flows north, across the Arctic Circle to the Beaufort Sea, a territory rich in oil and natural gas resources.

[Mackenzie River Basin]

Landjacking, by University of Waterloo students Virginia Fernadez and Meaghan Burke, is a project which deals with the confluence of significant ecosystems, hydrological systems and resources.  Burke and Fernadez write: “The Mackenzie Basin is just one incidence of a major Arctic river coinciding with significant oil or gas deposits. Such sedimentary basins – where over time marine organisms have been deposited, and decayed to form oil or gas – are also found in the Russian Arctic." By 2050, environmental pressures will increase melting ice and precipitation, increasing the annual discharge of the northern rivers such as the Mackenzie by 12-20 precent. This freshwater flows into the Beaufort Sea, becoming salt-water at the Delta. Collecting, treating and distributing just 4% of this excess water annually would produce 3 trillion m3 of water, enough to satisfy the annual water needs of 2 million Canadians. Burke and Fernadez explain: “The existing Mackenzie Gas project is proposing an infrastructure for extraction and processing facilities and housing; all centered on a finite resource, natural gas.

[The river has served to gather several settlements and extraction sites along its length, to service the projected gas pipeline which is to run parallel to the river for approx. 1220km.]

Landjacking seeks to hijack the construction of the pipeline and build a water pipeline alongside the gas infrastructure, introducing a new renewable resource to the region’s economy. The river delta presents the opportunity for co-opting the natural lake system, to develop a freshwater industry that would promote local economies with longevity.” Located close to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, the project profits from the relatively immunity from rising sea levels and storm surges while still collecting water from the river’s highest runoff.


[Geography of the Mackenzie Delta with its existing lakes, and proposed walls and canals networking the lakes into a new ecosystem]

The project essentially consists of three walls totalling 114km in length, which encircle 700km2 of territory near the Mackenzie Delta – a landscape ‘pock-marked’ with endless lakes. The project proposes to co-opt some of the lakes to act as natural wetlands to treat water flowing northward in the Mackenzie River.The water of the Mackenzie is polluted as various points downstream by mining, oil and gas works.


[Elements of an amphibious landscape: Existing lakes; River tributaries, New Flood walls; and Canals supplying and diverting water to lakes]

A combination of mechanical treatment and a gravitational network of collection, cleaning and storage lakes treat the highest water volume in the summer, and are supplanted in the winter by an entirely mechanical system. Smaller systems of wastewater management, aquaculture, snow collection and electricity production are connected to the water treatment diversifying the output of the system.  The clean water is then sent back south for irrigation and general consumption.

[Chemical and mechanical water treatment, as well as housing, recreation, services and transportation are embedded in the walls.]

The project is composed of a collection wall along the river where primary/initial water treatment occurs, and two secondary treatment walls linking the river with the land, all connected to the wetland system through pipelines and canals. The walls act as a levee shielding the wetlands from salt water and further pollutants when the water level rises, while perforations controlled by sluice-gates allow the maintenance of the natural hydrological and ecological systems.

[Inhabiting the infrastructural water landscapes]

The wall changes its width responding both to program and landscape. Transportation, pedestrian paths and pipelines span the wall merging water and human networks. A port for small barges coming along the Mackenzie, a road connected to the Dempster highway and four, four meter diameter pipelines are the connections to rest of the world.

[The Arctic's great water wall?]

A modern day Hoover dam, the project is a colossal infrastructure that seeks to find a way in which it might co-exist with its surrounding landscapes, albeit in an altered state. One might imagine this enclosed Arctic landscape like a modern Lake Mead – a natural landscape transformed, but supporting recreation, economies, and newly emerging ecologies.

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