Open house outlines options for Esox dam

The public got a chance to see what options the Ministry of Natural Resources is proposing to deal with a deteriorating dam on the Manitou River (Esox Lake) during an open house here yesterday.
With a roomful of charts and maps, the MNR illustrated five alternatives as to what can be done with the dam, which is located north of Devils Cascade and affects water levels along the entire Manitou watershed stretching 60 miles northeast of it (including Esox, the Manitou Stretch, Lower Manitou, and Upper Manitou).
These options include:
•do nothing (the dam eventually will break down on its own);
•rehabilitate the dam;
•reconstruct the dam with a control structure and a weir;
•reconstruct the dam with an overflow weir; or
•decommission it.
The first option would be cheapest, but ultimately would be a liability issue as water levels eventually would revert to those as if the dam were decomssioned (just not in a controlled fashion) and adversely affect property owners.
The second alternative would see the dam repaired, and thereby address current safety and liability concerns while keeping current water levels the same.
This repair would extend the dam’s life by an estimated 20 years.
Under the third option, a new dam with stop log bays and a weir would be built immediately downstream from the existing one (which would be used to de-water the new dam site during construction).
The new dam would allow more water to flow through than the existing one, resulting in slightly lower upstream flood levels and greater downstream flood levels.
But there would no significant impact to lakefront property, nor to the existing level of recreational navigational use or commercial/tourism use.
This would cost more than option two, but would last an estimated 40 years before needing repairs.
The fourth alternative would see construction of a new dam downstream from the existing one, with a 17 m long overflow weir. This would result in lowering lake levels across the entire system by 0.4 m.
The lower levels would have some impact on navigation, lakefront access, and fish and wildlife habitat, but not to the extent of the decommissioning alternative.
There would be lakefront recession of roughly six metres in certain areas, which would require tourism operators and property owners to relocate and/or lengthen docks, and possibly relocate existing infrastructure.
Finally, decommissioning—the most drastic of options—would see the dam removed, allowing for the return of the historic water levels and hydrology throughout the lake system.
Water levels would drop by an estimated 1.2 m on the Manitou Stretch, and Upper and Lower Manitou Lakes, and 2.9 m on Gussie Lake and Esox Lake.
There also would be, on average, a lakefront recession of 18 m, requiring tourism operators and other property owners to relocate and/or lengthen docks, and where applicable, relocate or retrofit existing infrastructure.
Channels, namely Esox Narrows (east and west), Four Miles Narrows, and Birch Narrows, would become non-navigable after the dam’s removal, and the lake system would be isolated into three sections for most of the year—Esox Lake and Gussie Lake; the Manitou Stretch and Lower Manitou Lake; and Upper Manitou Lake.
Rachel Hill, an integrated resource management specialist for the area of the Esox Lake dam, said yesterday that property owners in the area, as well as any of the public who want to be on the mailing list, will receive information packages on the alternatives in the next couple of weeks.
The recipients will be able to fill out comment forms and voice concerns about any of the options, as well as fill out a form to choose which one they think best suits the watershed.
They will have a 60-day period from when they receive their information packages to send their responses back to the MNR.
Taking the public’s input into consideration, the ministry then will decide what do about the dam. Depending on the amount of feedback, this could take some time, noted Hill.
Once a decision is made, those who provided input will be notified of it, and given 30 days to again provide input to the MNR, before the decision is finalized.
Hill said the dam’s future should be decided by next spring.
A second open house on the Esox dam will be held tomorrow (Sept. 3) from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Barker Bay Lodge on the Lower Manitou.