MNR backs new dam at Esox

In a recently-released draft report, the Ministry of Natural Resources is recommending a new dam be built to replace the deteriorating one on the Manitou River (Esox Lake).
MNR district planner Rachel Hill said Wednesday morning that the MNR has selected a “preferred alternative” following an environmental assessment of the dam situation over the past year—that the existing dam be replaced with a new structure downstream of it, which would include a 21-metre overflow weir with a one stop log bay.
Hill added the MNR also has prepared a draft environmental study report regarding the impact of building such a dam.
The public is welcome to check out the draft report at the local MNR office, and can make comment on it until Monday, Sept. 5.
Hill noted copies of the draft report cannot be sent out to the public due to its considerable size, but if people cannot make it to the MNR office, they can contact her at 274-8605 for further information on the proposed project.
These comments will be included in a final environmental report to be released this fall alongside a project plan.
The public then will be given 30 days to again provide input to the MNR before the decision is finalized.
Hill said even after that point, it is unknown as to when construction of the dam may occur since the MNR still will have to obtain funding for the project.
The recommendation comes nearly a year after a pair of open houses last September, at which time the MNR outlined five alternatives as to what could be done with the dam, which is located north of Devils Cascade.
It affects water levels along the entire Manitou watershed stretching 60 miles to the northeast (including Esox, the Manitou Stretch, Lower Manitou, and Upper Manitou).
These options included:
•Do nothing (i.e., no work would be done to repair the dam and it would be left to break down naturally).
•Rehabilitation—The dam would be repaired to address current safety and liability concerns, and would extend the life of the existing structure by an estimated 20 years.
•Reconstruction—The existing dam would be replaced with a new structure that would have three stop log bays and a weir (this would involve a new dam location downstream from the existing one, and require de-watering of the working dam site during constriction).
•Reconstruction (overflow weir)—This alternative would see construction of a new dam downstream from the existing one, with a 17-m long overflow weir.
•Decommissioning—After a complete assessment of environmental and social impacts, a strategy would be developed for complete removal of the existing dam.
The open houses then were followed by a three-month window for public comment.
“We had lots of responses. Generally, people wanted to see a new dam. Some others liked the idea of the weir,” noted Hill, adding the preferred alternative selected tries to meet those preferences.
According to a notice issued by the MNR regarding the preferred alternative and draft environmental study report, the new dam with the overflow weir and one stop log bay is recommended based on the following conclusions:
•This alternative meets the requirements of the Ontario Dam Safety Guidelines and addresses issues that were identified during the dam safety assessment;
•It maintains navigation opportunities for land owners, commercial enterprises, and those who visit the lake for recreation;
•The new dam design also will decrease dam operation and maintenance requirements; and
•The new dam allows the flexibility to manage the lake level that maintains navigation and deal with the chronic impacts to fish and wildlife that is a consequence of fluctuating water levels.
The flexibility also allows the ability to act in emergency flood events.
“The bottom line is the water levels are not going to change very much,” said Hill.
The decision as to what to do about the deteriorating Esox Lake dam has taken some time, and included several rounds of public input. The first open house regarding the matter was held back in January, 2003.