Underwater Cave System May Explain Drop in Lake Level

Is Williams Lake “draining” into an underground cavern?

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Water testing team
Water testing team sets out to measure Williams Lake depth

After a long Winter, Spring is finally here, and it’s time to reveal a discovery made by accident last Fall on Williams Lake. It all started during routine water testing in late October, when a 2-person crew lowered a weighted line to gauge the water’s depth. At one spot, the line just kept dropping with no slack, well past the usual 26 foot depth. As WLCC member Luke Ness describes the moment, “it just kept sinking and sinking. My partner pulled out his GPS and noted the coordinates. That’s how we found the entrance to the cave.”

ROV mini-sub with lights

When repeated drops of the weight showed this was no fluke, and when the pair ran out of rope, they decided to seek help, and answers. They approached Maritime Adventure Divers, who recommended using a mini-ROV, a small agile underwater drone, to illuminate and record what was below the surface. The tiny sub showed a clear gap in the rocky bottom, and with difficulty was able to penetrate 25 feet into the crevice on its tether line.

Diver negotiates a narrow passage with side mounted tank

It wasn’t long before word spread to local divers, eager to explore before ice formed on the lake. Wearing winter gear, and mounting their tanks sideways due to the narrow passage, they reported that after a 30 foot diagonal descent it opened into what one of them described as “a series of giant underwater caverns”.

One diver posted this description on his social media, before it was hastily taken down: “Dropping through the crack and squeezing through the tight passage you reach an opening that leads to an unbelievable room that seems to go on forever. A narrow, almost invisible crevice leads back to the exit.”

Why was the post taken down? One word – extreme danger.

Danger sign in cave

Underwater exploration has long fascinated adventurous types. But diving in dark, enclosed spaces filled with rocky outcroppings isn’t easy. As diver Reisiger Scherz explained to us, “Cave diving is scuba with no easy escape route”. Unlike scuba training, cave diving certification is a long arduous 9 month process, with 6 levels of expertise. “It’s one of the most dangerous sports in the world – experienced divers have died”.

When we asked for more information Scherz explained: “The cave experience is more like floating in outer space than swimming. You have to control your buoyancy and deal with possible emergencies. Once you are down there and weightless, you have no sense of which way is up, so getting back to the surface is a real challenge”.

Cave diving – not for the faint of heart
[photo credit: Creative Commons]

“If you publish this GPS data” he warns, teens or free divers will try to explore the cavern – they’ll be trapped and unable to surface.”

Geologist E. Norm Bufala of Dalhousie says “we’re not sure if the cave opening was always there, or if some boulders shifted causing the gap that forms the entrance”. Further questions relate to whether the caves have anything to do with Williams Lake not fully freezing over this winter. In fact, the most persistent open water was directly over the cave entrance. There may also be a link to this past summer’s extremely low water levels. If the cave opening is new, water may have flowed into it from the lake.

There’s safety in numbers – we hope

Still other questions relate to whether new species will be discovered living in this isolated habitat. Luke Ness believes it’s possible. He’s sure he felt a tug on his water-testing line just before pulling it up, only to find it partially severed. “The weight was hanging by a thread” he notes, “and the mini-sub was pretty scratched up when it finally surfaced. I wouldn’t go down there if you paid me.” A local dive company will offer tours of the underwater cave starting this summer.

The discovery could in fact be a boon for tourism in the area. Williams Lake cave system could be added to the list of premier international diving sites, along with Belize’s Giant Cave and the Great Aquifer of Tulum.

Though we’ve known about the cave since late Fall of last year, it was considered wise to delay announcing until more was known about exact conditions in the cave. Now it’s April Fools Day, a perfect time to break the story, and reveal that it is entirely made up. It is, in fact, a load of hooey. Happy April Fools from your friends at the WLCC!

And though Williams Lake is in no danger of draining into a giant underground cavern, water levels have been dropping drastically. The ageing dam has been covered by local news media. As well, the lake’s watershed is under current threat from developments that affect water flow and quality. For more information on how you can help support Williams Lake visit our Membership Page.

For more foolishness, visit the world famous WLCC April Fools Archive!

Underwater Cave System May Explain Drop in Lake Level
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