Billings council agrees to take action on Lake Kagawong water levels

KAGAWONG—While a group of residents on Lake Kagawong have made it clear that they are concerned with low water levels on the lake and feel that changes need to be made in the way Oakville Enterprises Corp. has operated its hydro generating station, they also feel the Township of Billings has a responsibility in controlling water levels. As reported in last week’s Recorder, the very low water levels caused the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to send a letter to the company ordering them to follow the water management plan. 

Bob Clifford, speaking on behalf of a group of residents on Lake Kagawong, told council at a meeting Monday, “my wife Jean and I operate Lake Kagawong Family Cabins. The low water levels goes deeper than the generating plant and turbine. My brief addressed that in a letter MNRF sent to Oakville power.”
Mr. Clifford noted that the company had violated some of the requirements that it is to follow by the province. He pointed to the letter from the MNRF to the company (and to the township) which stated that the generating station was operating when water levels were below the rule curve from July 10-26, 2018. “Starting July 23, 2018, MNRF received several public complaints regarding water levels on Lake Kagawaong. Upon receiving these complaints, MNRF requested water level and generation station operation data. The requested data was sent to MNRF by CIMA+ to Oakville Enterprises corporation on July 26, 2018, and CIMA contacted the township on that date to notify that the plant had been operating at water levels below the 2018 rule curve. MNRF also conducted a site visit to the dam on July 25, 2018 and there is documentation that this went on,” he said.

“We (council) agree with you; we (township) were all shocked to find out where things are at,” stated Billings councillor Sharon Alkenbrack who recommended, “I would like to see a member of our (township) staff monitor the water levels regularly, and this reported to council, so that we have that on our records.”

“At your last council meeting, Councillor (Brian) Parker was requested to put a letter together for the MNRF. And he requested some help in putting it together,” said Mr. Clifford who, along with other property owners on the lake, help put a draft letter together. “This issue is disturbing and all issues that have been raised need to be replied on immediately. There was a long delay on the plant operating and the levels being below the rule curve, and anyone being informed of this.”

Mr. Clifford stated, “they need to know how vital the lake is for the people who live on it, the social well being of the residents, businesses and tourism. And a meeting with the company needs to take place to identify the issues and make sure this doesn’t take place again in the future.”

“Our primary concern and your constituents’ is protection of the lake,” stated Mr. Clifford. “We are looking for council to move on this issue and write both the ministry and the company to detail all the problems being faced on this issue. But we would like to eliminate the Ministry of the Environment and Energy and MNRF from the discussion for a moment. Billings township itself has issues that it needs to address. You have a lease agreement with the company on the power plant, and the lease agreement is based on a percentage of what power they generate and Billings receives money (from the company) for that.”

“But somewhere along the line the township lost track of the plant operating and having to be in compliance, that has resulted in the low water levels,” said Mr. Clifford. “But the township has not lost track of the cheque the township receives from the company every month. The township council should have known what is and has been going on, with all the complaints that have been received, but have been ignored. The company is a year and a half behind in the reports it is supposed to be providing to the township, and no one noticed?”

Mr. Clifford said he has attended other Billings council meetings where several committee reports are given. “There is a Lake Kagawong Standing Water Advisory Committee already in place that is to address issues like lake levels and lake stewardship, with two representatives from Kagawong on the committee. We have requested a report from the committee for well over a year but we have never seen a report because the committee has not met. This needs to be resurrected.”

“All this slips by, the company is not compliant and we have low water levels,” continued Mr. Clifford. “There is an agreement between the township and the company  on the operations. We need to go to the ministries involved but first the township needs to clean up its own fence first. You need to take control over the operations and the water levels, you have an agreement with the company.”

Mr. Clifford explained, “in the Billings Sustainability Plan 2012-2017, one of the measures in it is that the township is to strictly enforce the power generating plant to live up to the regulations they are supposed to be following.”
John Hoekstra indicated this is the worst year he has seen with water levels and said that it could result in frozen water lines next spring. He questioned why the company does not face any enforcement-fine when they are drawing water from the lake, when they shouldn’t be.

Mayor Aus Hunt said there is a fine process in place and said that this issue has been raised many times in the past and that presumably the company has been abiding by what the agreement says they can take in water.

“But they’ve been taking too much water,” stated Ms. Alkenbrack.

Councillor Brian Parker noted in the letter from the MNRF the power company has been operating at levels below the rule curve. “There is a whole bunch of things the MNRF nailed them on.” He pointed out the standing advisory committee has not met for the past one and a half years.

“I agree we could assign responsibility to someone on staff to monitor the levels and report them to council every month,” said Councillor Barb Erskine.

Mr. Clifford said a protocol had been set up in 2018, that all information was supposed to be made readily available by Oakville Enterprises but hasn’t been updated or made available.

“If you have an agreement with them, you need to make sure they are operating properly,” said Mr. Clifford.

“We agree with you,” said Councillor Alkenbrack. “It is obvious the township needs to be more involved in all of this.”

“We need to make sure we have control of all of this.”

Rob Seifried noted that he and his family have lived on the lake for about 20 years and own Sunset Bay Resort, a business that relies on water being at good levels. “All we are asking for is better management of the lake. We are not saying the township should not receive money for leasing out the property for the power station, but when it costs us $22,000 a year to start up our business in tax and insurance alone, and when it costs more to put in longer docks to put docks in the water it is costing me as a business operator.”

Councillors agreed that measures need to be put in place so that the township can monitor and report the water levels, and that the company is following the rule curve.
“Don’t sit on the issue and wait for the new council,” said Mr. Clifford. “Take action now; put the company on notice that they need to report on the lake levels and that the township is going to monitor and report on the levels on a regular basis as well.”

Council agreed that it will reply to the letter from the MNRF indicating its concerns, and that the township will be meeting with Oakville Enterprises Corp., and with the company and all stakeholders as soon as possible.

“We will take steps to get control over the water,” said Councillor Alkenbrack.