Billings council angered with Lake Kagawong hydro company

Low lake levels called ‘atrocious’

KAGAWONG—Billings Township council and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) are calling on Oakville Enterprises Corp. to make changes in the way it has operated the local hydro generating station on Lake Kagawong and alleged the company has not been in compliance with the Kagawong River Water Management Plan in several areas which has resulted in very low lake levels.

“This is atrocious,” stated Billings Councillor Brian Parker at a Billings council meeting last week. “This summer I almost got rid of my land line because of all the calls I received from people concerning low water levels. It is extremely difficult for boats when there is no water at the docks or launches to get in or out and the lifts have become unusable because of the lack of water. Many property owners have resorted to the fact they have had to remove their boats from the water. I myself lost use of my dock at the end of June due to the low water.”

“What we have here is the MNRF indicating to the company that they are not in compliance and not following the management plan. This is terrible,” stated Mr. Parker. “Something needs to be done, maybe they need to be charged. Our area depends on our waterways and fisheries, which are no doubt going to be affected. I’d like to see at our next meeting a full set of operating records from the company over the past year.”

Deputy Mayor Sharon Alkenbrack noted that all members of council received a letter from the MNRF to Oakville Enterprises outlining the ministry concerns.

A letter from Paul Leale, resource management supervisor with the Sudbury District MNRF, to Scott Mudie of Oakville Enterprises, dated August 23 states, “starting July 23, 2018, MNRF received several public complaints regarding water levels on Lake Kagawong. Upon receiving these complaints, MNRF requested water level and generation station operation data. The requested data was sent to MNRF by CIMA+ on behalf of Oakville Enterprises Corporation on July 26 and CIMA contacted us 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.”

“MNRF would like to highlight the following areas that were recently or are currently out of compliance with the Kagawong River Water Management Plan,” Mr. Leale wrote. “The generating station was operating when water levels were below the rule curve from July 10-26; although MNRF was contacted to notify of the incident when Oakville Enterprises Corporation became aware of it, the incident had been ongoing for 16 days prior to MNRF being notified. The reported numbers for the staff gauge at the river are the same for the period of prior to April 27 and after June 17. It is our understanding that the staff gauge at the river has been unreadable due to disrepair since June 17.” As well, “a rule curve was not sent to MNRF within two weeks of its start. An annual report for 2017 has not been provided. This was due March 31. Data sent on July 25 indicated several incidents of high water in early 2018. These incidents were not reported. MNRF appreciates that high water incidents may be unavoidable due to weather on some occasions,  however immediate and 30-day reporting for these incidents is still required.”

Mr. Leale continued, “we acknowledge that some corrective action has been taken to address the above: a rule curve has now been provided to MNRF. It is my understanding that the generating station was shut down on July 25 and will not be run again until water levels are above the rule curve.

“Please take the following additional action to remedy the above: repair or replace the staff gauge at the river. Until it is repaired river readings must be taken using the reference bolt as a backup. Provide an annual report for 2018. Provide information on the end date of the incident that began on July 10 (i.e. the date at which water levels were once again above the rule curve, if this has occurred).”

“As we understand from the letter, they (Oakville Enterprises) are not replying to the MNRF on all their concerns,” said Councillor Alkenbrack.

“Even the markers by the water table are down,” said Councillor Parker. “I’ve been directing people to the MNRF and the MOEE (Ministry of Environment and Energy). The lake is an attraction and if we lose our water, we are going to lose our fishery and our tourists.”

“There are a lot of individuals and business that are paying taxes (for being on the lakefront properties),” said Councillor Alkenbrack.

“High taxes,” rejoined Councillor Parker.

“Their (Oakville Enterprises) person is on-site and should know when the water is low—and lower than what is allowed,” stated Councillor Parker. “At one point they were running 16 days full tilt. I know there is climate change and higher evaporation rates, but the rule curve that is being used needs to be redone.”

Councillor Parker noted it was the company that established the rule curve. “But the ministry has a say in this as well; I understand they’ve lowered the water gauge below the mark in the water and this has caused a loss of thousands of gallons of water. People are angry and I can’t blame them.”

It was pointed out the township has an agreement with the company to lease the property to the latter for the next 15 years. “We have to address our concerns with the company and the fact they are not  in compliance and make these concerns known to the MNRF and MOEE,” said Councillor Parker. “It is unreasonable what is being done or not being done.”

The issue will be discussed again at a future meeting of council, after council has the opportunity to review the lease agreement, contact the company and look at what the township can do.