Esox dam secure and up to standard: MNRF


Reports of Esox’s death are greatly exaggerated.

The Esox dam, located approximately 50 km northeast of Fort Frances, has been the subject of concern, speculation and rumour as water in the Rainy Lake system continues to rise to historic levels. Social media posts have speculated that the dam is on the verge of collapse, which could bring renewed water woes to the Rainy River region.

However, according to Michelle Nowak, those fears are unfounded. Nowak, who is the regional outreach specialist for the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, says regular monitoring with both a remote gauge and site visits have shown the dam is safe and fully operational.

“Based on our monitoring, we can confirm the dam is not in a compromised state or at risk of failing,” she said. “Public safety and the protection of Ontario’s communities is Ontario’s number one priority. Ministry staff conduct regular site visits and dam operations are carried out in accordance with the ministry’s dam safety plan.”

Even if the dam were to fail, the impact wouldn’t be significant to the Fort Frances area. According to Nowak, modelling indicates the Manitou River system (the watershed in which Esox dam is located) contributes only 3.5 per cent of total outflow to Rainy Lake. In comparison, Turtle River, Seine River and the Namakan Reservoir collectively contribute approximately 81 per cent of the total outflow, suggesting that the inputs from the Manitou system are not likely to have a large impact on Rainy Lake levels, compared to larger systems.

Although secure and stable, the dam, which was constructed in 1952, is in need of repairs. According to the Times archive, the ministry has toyed with the idea of replacing or repairing the dam since the early 2000’s. It underwent an Environmental Assessment in 2003, followed by a recommendation to replace the dam. That plan was shelved, but in 2017, the MNR approached local stakeholders on the Manitou System to gauge their opinions on the fate of the dam. Residents and camp and cottage owners in the region could weigh in on repairing, replacing, or even dismantling the dam.

The result of that consultation was the determination to repair the dam, maintaining its current status and operation, said Nowak.

“While we are currently in a flood situation, the dam is stable and most logs are removed to manage the flood level water flow. Moving into next year we anticipate undertaking these repairs,” she said.

Although a dam failure is just rumour, a very real concern for stakeholders is erosion, which has been reported along the shoreline, according to Nowak.

“This is not uncommon in the presence of high water levels, saturated ground and wave action,” she said. “The public can help reduce the risk of erosion along shorelines by reducing their wake in close proximity to shore when boating.”

Another reason for boaters to slow way down is the presence of a large floating bog, currently adrift in Rainy Lake. It was recently spotted in Prospect Bay.

“This is a natural phenomenon caused by high water and wind conditions,” said Nowak. “The public should exercise caution near floating bogs as they may be unstable. As always, be aware of any water hazards when navigating the waterways.”