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Residents concerned about water levels in Irvine Creek after dam plug dislodged

Low water levels - The Irvine Creek pond, located in Salem, has seen low water levels in recent weeks due to the dislodging of a plug created by debris.      photo by Olivia Rutt

Residents concerned about water levels in Irvine Creek after dam plug dislodged

by Olivia Rutt

SALEM - The Irvine Creek pond here has been reduced to a trickling stream after the dam’s plug dislodged in late July.

Water that used to flow over the dam at the Woolwich Street West bridge now is being pulled down through a drain hole at the base of the dam.

Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) spokesman Dave Schultz said the dam was constructed in the 1800s with a hole to drain the pond for repairs.

“It had a plug in it and over the years, the plug just decayed and disappeared and that probably happened in 2013, but since then it got plugged up with debris,” said Schultz.

With the wooden plug decayed, tree branches, leaves, dirt and other natural items created a makeshift plug that earlier this year started to dislodge.

Schultz stated with the recent dry spell and the disappearing plug, there is not enough water coming down the Irvine Creek to both go through the drain hole and over the top of the dam.

Residents along the creek have noticed the significant drop in water levels.

“There used to be a pond right here. It was almost about six feet down at the end there,” said Dave Authier, a Salem resident.

He is concerned about his well and the wells of other residents along the Irvine.

“This is where we get our water from. In the springtime when the water is really high, you can see the water in the house fluctuate, the water gets dirty,” said Authier.

“I’m concerned about our water, because there’s not enough pressure to push down on the aquifer to keep water coming in.”

The GRCA doesn’t have records for wells in the area, and could not say whether the low water level would affect residents.  

“If they are bedrock wells … there probably is no connection between the water that is in the river and the water in their wells,” said Schultz.

“If they’re shallower wells that are maybe drawing from and area of the ground that might be influenced by the river, there could be. We don’t have those records.”

It is the responsibility of the dam owner to come up with a solution to the breach, said Schultz.

“In this particular case, what we’ve done is we’ve contacted the dam owner and … brought to his attention that there is this problem at the dam,” said Schultz.

“The owner would have to come up with a plan, show it to the Ministry of Natural Resources and they would have to approve it. Because it would also involve doing construction in a riverbed … they would have to get a permit from us. We do have a process for issuing emergency repair permits.”

Old dam - Debris plugging the drain at the dam under Woolwich Street West in Salem has shifted, draining the pond.     photo by Olivia Rutt

The GRCA met with dam owner Joseph Chen on July 31 to discuss the issue.

Chen, who has owned the mill and dam since 2009, said he was first aware of the issue on July 30.

“I am working with the GRCA and an engineering firm they recommended to see what are the next steps forward,” he said.

Chen said through his conversations with the engineering company, “it is unlikely to qualify as an emergency repair because nothing is in imminent peril …and the integrity of the dam is not compromised.”

If he doesn’t get a emergency permit, the construction process may not start until next summer.

Authier is hoping for a permanent solution, but in the meantime he has put his household on a self-imposed water ban in order to conserve water.

“If [my well is] affected by high water, it’s going to be affected by low waters,” said Authier.

However, Chen said residents should not be affected.

“Oh no, it won’t be affected at all. We take no water from surface water, and so there is absolutely no path from the river down through the water shed into the beds that people drink from,” said Chen.

He will be meeting with the engineering company on Aug. 11. He said he will send his neighbours a letter and may start writing a blog to keep people updated.

Chen and GRCA officials are asking people to stay away from the dam.

“This can be an extremely dangerous place because when you’ve got a drain hole at the bottom of the dam like that, it’s got a tremendous pull,” said Schultz.

He said he has heard people are putting debris into the dam in order to plug the hole again.

“It’s really important that people just stay away from there. The owner is working on a permanent solution, in the meantime the water level may be down for a while,” said Schultz.

August 7, 2015


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