Water level issue gains higher profile 0
The dam and Trent Severn Waterway lift lock on the Scugog River in Lindsay. JASON BAIN/The Lindsay Post Files
A local organization fighting for better management of water levels in the area’s Trent Severn Waterway reservoir lakes has received a major boost from MP Barry Devolin.
Last week, Devolin announced he wants a new, independent agency created to manage the Trent Severn Waterway, with a focus on public safety and health along the 386 kilometre long system.
“I have come to believe that people and communities in this region would be better served by an independent agency managing the Trent Severn Waterway rather than Parks Canada”, Devolin said. “As such, my intention is to table a private member’s bill this fall that would create a Crown corporation, which would manage and operate the TSW.”
Devolin attended the annual meeting of the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow (CEWF) at the Fish Hatchery near Haliburton on Saturday to lend his support to the coalition’s advocacy for a more comprehensive water management plan for the area’s reservoir lakes and the system as a whole.
Devolin’s proposed bill follows Parks Canada’s recent announcement of Trent Severn Waterway staff cuts and plans to integrate operations with the Rideau Canal system under a single management structure, based in Smiths Falls.
The CEWF is supported by area cottagers’ associations and represents 85 per cent of all the lakes that feed water into the Trent Severn system. It was formed after the broader based Panel on the Future of the Trent Severn Waterway issued its recommendations to the federal minister of the environment in April, 2008. Since then the CEWF has been monitoring area lake levels, working with Trent Severn staff on water management issues, and lobbying for the creation of a more detailed water management plan for the entire waterway system.
The coalition recently released a position paper in which it outlined its key priorities.
Co-chairman Chris Riddle, a Kennisis Lake cottager, told the audience of area lake representatives at Saturday’s meeting that in addition to its call for a new, comprehensive approach to managing water levels in reservoir lakes and along the entire canal system, the group wants to see improved information and data on factors that affect water flows, documentation of preferred water levels and flows, and progress on the issue of who should operate the Trent Severn system.
Riddle said many local councils have passed resolutions supporting integrated water management, funding of dams and maintenance, creating a modern water management model, forming a new management agency, and getting the Ontario government to take an interest in issues involving the TSW.
The coalition’s work was given greater urgency this year by low snowfall and a lack of rain this summer that produced some of the lowest water levels in reservoir lakes in more than 10 years.
Riddle said 2012 “closely reflects climate change projections for 30 years in the future’’ which predict reduced snowpack, early melt, and hot dry summers.
“This year was almost like looking into the future.”
“Towards the end of July, we were getting very concerned about low water levels, so we wrote to TSW calling for conservation measures, a more balanced approach, and contingency planning for extreme weather conditions,” Riddle said.
Despite the hardships low water levels have created for property owners on lakes with the highest drawdowns, Riddle and his fellow coalition members praised Peterborough-based water control engineer Dave Ness, who attended the meeting, for his efforts to minimize the local impact of near drought conditions.
This year Ness’s staff began putting logs in local dams in January, a month earlier than usual. Spring melt was “the earliest I have seen it,” he said, and lack of rainfall, along with warm temperatures exacerbated evaporation along the system.
Overall, however, Ness said it was “a pretty good year because of decisions made on how to manage what water there was.” He noted that conditions were actually drier in 1988 and 2001.
Asked what he thought the impact of a shorter TSW boating season, under discussion by Parks Canada, might be on reservoir lakes, Ness said he believed that “even if locks were filled in and planted with flowers” operations would be the same. “Whether boats are going through the locks or not, I don’t see there is going to much of an impact,” he said.
That’s because minimum water flows have to be maintained along the system for Peterborough drinking water and treated sewage outflow, and other public purposes.
On the matter of possible Haliburton area Parks Canada staff cuts and the effect on management of waterflows through local dams, Ness said “I prefer not to comment on that because nothing has been finalized.”
At present, three crews of two people control local dam flows from April through October.
Offered a chance to expand on what led him to propose a new management model for the TSW, Devolin said recent discussion surrounding consolidation of Rideau and Trent Canada management under a single Parks Canada administration, and the possibility of reducing boating days on TSW and a system wide boating fee, have proved controversial.
“I have thought, isn’t there a bigger fix needed,” Devolin said.
Fundamental to his thinking is the notion that Parks Canada is not the right agency to operate the system, since the TSW is not a park, but a much larger and more complex system that affects the economy, and the water supply, of many cities and towns, as well as waterfront property owners and communities in the reservoir lakes region.
A major concern is capital funding, and system needs can’t be accommodated under the Parks Canada, he said. Much of the infrastructure, which includes 150 dams, 45 locks, and 39 swing bridges, is deteriorating, and will need repair and even reconstruction in the future. In fact, a coalition member pointed out, leakage through aging dams accounts for a significant portion of the water flow fed from reservoir lakes.
South of the Haliburton Highlands, the TSW “is seen as huge economic driver, and people think more could be done,” Devolin said.
He was candid in explaining that his efforts are unlikely to result in immediate change.
“I don’t expect Parks Canada is necessarily going to agree with me,” he said, adding it is unlikely his private member’s bill will be passed. A more likely outcome of his efforts to raise the profile of issues affecting the TSW is that government may take his idea and adopt it as part of their own policy, he said.
“I believe that one of the values of moving towards an independent agency’’ will be the due diligence process, he said, which would provide an opportunity to revisit issues around the system.
Reservoir lake drawdown concerns and consequences are not recognized as a priority by communities farther south along the TSW, Devolin said.
“It’s important that your organization makes that point (about the need for a better water management system) and your voice is heard.”
Asked if the coalition has considered taking a more aggressive stance with government agencies and politicians, Chris Riddle said the organization is “happy to be blamed for being too polite because we think that’s how we’ll make progress … Have we considered legal issues [that could be used to press for change]? ... Absolutely”
“The public right to navigation would be one, and the second would be riparian rights, which has been a big issues in the U.S., especially along Colorado River, but it is a dog’s breakfast.”
“Do we want to start class action suits right now? ... Absolutely not.”
The Coalition wants a consultative process that engages stakeholders.
“We don’t believe that taking legal action has any place in our philosophy,” he said.
Devolin praised that approach and added that in his experience, being confrontational and impolite rarely works.
While changes have not come at the pace many people in the reservoir lakes area want to see, the coalition has no plans to scale back its efforts, Riddle said.
“We’re in this for the long haul … We’re going to keep engaging the powers that be, and work for your interests in the long term.”
“I think you have done a very good job of being professional, of being insistent and persistent,” Devolin said.
“Lighting fires is a poor strategy ... I think it’s best that cooler heads prevail in most cases.”
- special to the Echo by Len Pizzey