Dam Thoughts

Recently, an article in the Guelph Mercury highlighted the conflicting community opinion on the future of the Wellington Street dam. While the debate may be years away — as there is no immediate need for a large capital investment in repairs — it is still a subject that is of high interest to those who care deeply about our river systems.

On one hand, the health of cold water fish habitat would be improved by removing the dam and letting the river run its natural course throughout the year. On the other hand, the stretch of river between the Boathouse and the dam is a highly-valued and well-used recreational ammenity for canoeists and enhances the aesthetic for park users. All sorts of other complicating factors also add to the mix — the proliferation of geese, removal of channelization walls, etc.

It will be a lively debate. Historically, the river has not been the same since 1828 when the first mill pond and dam were created to power the Canada Company mill (later the Allans Mill, and most recently the Woods site at Arthur Street). Clearcutting, industry and five more mills (Speedvale, Goldie, Victoria, Gows and Fergusson) later polluted and damaged the river health.

The naturalization efforts along the riverbanks in the last 20 years has significantly improved water quality and wildlife habitat. These efforts must continue.

The best solutions are often compromises. Is there a way to retain the dam and the human enjoyment of the river corridor, and still achieve a by-pass for cold water fish habitat to thrive? I was recently assured by experts that a by-pass channel can achieve a win-win for all.


One thought on “Dam Thoughts

  1. I have heard of plans for the city to reclaim the area around the Wellington Street plaza, including the area along the former Canadian Tire site to turn it into a parkland setting and regain river front for the enjoyment of all. I am all for this. However, the removal of the Wellington Street dam, which I have known in the past as “The Green Dam”, is a sore spot that I would be completely opposed to. I believe that there is far more at stake here than just the fish. Surely there are enough miles of river that the fish have plenty of habitat to reside in.

    Every river in the world has its slow and fast sections (ebb and flow). This allows a river system to accomodate many types of wildlife. Since the dam’s erection, the ecosystem, including fauna, waterfowl, amphibians, and many other species, have adapted to the river in its present state and I believe its removal would create far more damage than it would address. If we are to start removing dams for the reasons I have seen so far, when do we start removing beaver dams to restore water flow as well? While we are on the subject of restoring the river to its natural state, are we going to run the full course and re-introduce the channels and islands that were removed between McCrae and Edinburgh Rd. and replace the three bridges that once spanned the mighty Speed on Edinburgh? It was, after all, a natural flood plain and many species were ousted from their homes along that section many years ago. I would also point out that just upriver of the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa rivers is a channel that was cut through a bend in the river to, again, relieve flooding issues in that area. An island exists there today. It seems to me that we have done enough over the years to reroute the river to service us and I think it is high time to leave it alone, even if it means fixing what we have already put there.

    At present the dam has two overflow chutes that could be restructured into natural looking fish ladders that would also add safety to the structure by elliminating the drop that people might be carried into or try to slide down for fun. Even if a total reconstruction of the dam to make it more naturally appealing, I fervently believe it is worth every penny and the water levels as they are should be maintained.

    No matter what happens with the dam, it will have long term reprocussions and will also have the potential for creating great conflict within the community. Having lived in Guelph since my birth over 50 years ago, this area of the city has been and always will be a signiture appeal for myself and many others. It recreational value alone is evident on a daily basis as people swim, boat, or just spred out blankets to enjoy the parks tranquil setting.

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