Caniapiscau Reservoir, Quebec, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Quebec -

Also known as:  Lake Caniapiscau

“The money is not as useful as the land was before we lost it.” -Chisasibi Cree Native

About 9,000 years ago, the glaciers receded on the Laurentian Plateau of the Canadian Shield, leaving pockets of lakes in their wake. The rivers were fast and ran with snowmelt, and lakes covered the landscape. Lake Caniapiscau was one of those lakes, providing food and habitat for the people and wildlife in the area for thousands of years. Recent history, however, has significantly changed both the lake and the lives that depended on it.

To describe the Nord-du-Quebec region in the Quebec Province of Canada as sparsely populated is an understatement. With less than 40,000 people in the entire region, there are over eight square miles of land for each person. The population is primarily aboriginal, made up mostly of the Cree and Inuit peoples who have been living in the region for over 4,000 years.

Covered with boreal forest, or taiga, made up of weather-stunted spruce and pine interspersed with bogs and rocky crags, the region is largely inaccessible except by bush plane. Winter stretches from late October through early May with temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit). Summers are short but moderate and very bright. The land is rich with natural resources, and has been mined and logged extensively for timber. In 1975, construction began on the James Bay Project and Hydro-Quebec found a way to use another of the region’s resources. Caniapiscau Reservoir is part of a project that generates hydro-electric power for the rest of the province.

Caniapiscau Reservoir bears little resemblance to its earlier incarnation as Lake Caniapiscau. The reservoir was created as part of Phase I of the James Bay or La Grande Project. The project includes eight generation stations and eight reservoirs which together generate eight times the power of the Hoover Dam. Caniapiscau Reservoir is at the headwaters of the Caniapiscau River, and after the dam was constructed, 180-square mile Lake Caniapiscau grew to nine times it original size and incorporated four additional natural lakes: Delorme, Brisay, Tournon, and Vermouille. The massive reservoir grew to over a million acres with over 3,000 miles of shoreline. Measured by surface area, it is the largest reservoir in the James Bay Project, stretching 75 miles long and 84 miles wide.

Built as an access road for Hydro-Quebec, the Trans-Taiga Road opened to vehicle traffic in 1981 and provides another way to reach Caniapiscau Reservoir. The gravel road is 414 miles long and 52 miles of it wind around the reservoir. It is safe for car travel, but 4WD vehicles are recommended for part of the road. There are no permanent settlements in the area, but some wilderness outfitters have sprung up along the road offering hunting and sport fishing services. A few also have gas, food and lodging, but both amenities and necessities are far enough apart that careful planning is required for anyone driving on the road.

Construction on Caniapiscau Reservoir was completed in 1981 and the reservoir reached full pool in 1984. After the reservoir filled, water levels on the Caniapiscau River went back up to earlier levels. Unfortunately the caribou in the area had grown used to the lower water levels and the sudden influx caused 10,000 of them to drown. Impounding the reservoir also flooded Cree hunting and fishing grounds. Mercury content in the new impoundments went up and water that was once pure snowmelt became unfit to drink. The Cree were financially compensated for their loss, but in an area without shopping malls, money seems less valuable. The James Bay Project changed their way of life.

The recent history of the Caniapiscau Reservoir is a series of pushes and pulls. The caribou drowned, but new large bodies of water draw water fowl inland. The influx of non-native hunters and anglers that come for the caribou, moose, lake whitefish and landlocked salmon compete with the Cree for resources, but they also provide much needed economic development. The land and water has changed drastically and, along with it, the lives of the people that depend on it. The James Bay Project, however, generates electrical power with minimal environmental degradation beyond the original damage. It is a series of comprises in a system that is continuing to strive for balance. Caniapiscau Reservoir serves as an example and reminder of the interconnectedness of everything.

Things to do at Caniapiscau Reservoir

  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Caniapiscau Reservoir

  • Salmon
  • Whitefish

Caniapiscau Reservoir Photo Gallery

    Caniapiscau Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Hydro-Quebec

    Surface Area: 1,067,001 acres

    Shoreline Length: 3,010 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,760 feet

    Maximum Depth: 160 feet

    Water Volume: 27,777,024 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1984

    Water Residence Time: 2.2 years

    Drainage Area: 14,209 sq. miles

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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