Marshall Lake dam faces 11th hour decisions

Chris Stevenson
By Chris Stevenson
June 24th, 2012

Local governments and the public have until the end of this month to come up with a plan to preserve Marshall Lake.

That’s all the time the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) will allow for a decision to be made on whether or not the city, regional district or the public are willing and able to take over responsibility for the dam.

If no one steps up, the dam will be decommissioned by the end of this year, and the lake will shrink to less than half its current size.

Local government and concerned citizens met with MFLNRO senior fisheries biologist Tara White on Monday, June 18 to discuss plans and options for the dam and lake.

In a presentation at Greenwood City Hall, White gave three options for the lake: first – status quo with the Ministry maintaining and operating the dam; second – that the dam licence and ownership transfer to local government or the public; third – decommissioning of the dam, and allowing the lake to return to natural storage.

White told the group that the ministry intends to proceed with decommissioning this year if the licence is not transferred.

The dam licence is owned by the MFLNRO, which does not want the continued responsibility for the dam. Removing the dam would see the lake reduced in size from 6.5 to 2.5 surface hectares, and depth would be reduced from nearly 14 metres to seven metres.

The dam on Marshall Lake was originally built in the late 1950’s, to provide water for mining operations around the now abandoned City of Phoenix.

In the 1960’s the dam was raised to its current height of 33 feet. In 1984, the province took over the licence for conservation purposes.

Challenges and potential options for long term maintenance, management and stewardship of the dam and lake formed much of the discussion at the meeting.

Greenwood Mayor Nipper Kettle emphasized the importance of the site for recreation, questioning the need to take action.

Councillor Lee Cudworth was similarly skeptical. Cudworth, a lifelong resident of the area, questioned the validity of concerns for the dam’s longevity and safety.

Greenwood public works superintendant Randy Smith suggested that the projected costs to upgrade could be substantially reduced if local support and resources were used.

Resident Robin Dalziel, owner of Joybilee Farms in the Eholt area, expressed concern about the options for removing the invasive species in the lake.

Dalziel believes that his residential and agricultural water source comes from Glenside Creek, which is connected to the lake’s downstream flows.

Dalziel contested White’s assertion that rotenone, a piscicide used to eliminate non-native species such as sunfish, was a safe option.

Following the Testalinden Dam incident in Oliver, the province undertook a review of all dams in the province, nearly 2,000 in all.

The Providence dam made headlines when it was rated as the “highest risk”, “highest consequence” dam in the province, and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and the city were approached in 2010 to consider taking over responsibility

Questions over the perceived safety of the dam site were raised when a later report, by provincial dam safety officer Bert Brazier in 2011, showed that the dam’s risk was lower than had been originally determined by MFLNRO staff.

The report, among other things, said that the dam was built to withstand a 1,000 year event.

That report called for a consequence assessment to be completed to determine the consequence rating on the dam. That assessment was never done.

This is the second time the dam has been on the province’s chopping block – the City of Greenwood and RDKB were approached in 2010 to take over the licence.

At that time, no decision was made to decommission the dam. The lake will be a topic of discussion at Monday night’s city council meeting, as the clock ticks on the Ministry’s deadline.

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