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.