Low water levels draw concerns from Billings residents

KAGAWONG—With a relatively lack of snow and precipitation this winter, already low water levels in Kagawong have been a concern of local residents for at least the past year. But recently, the generating of power by the local hydro generating station has, in the minds of several local residents, meant that the levels in Kagawong Lake were reduced to less than proper levels. 

“I have a concern about Lake Kagawong water levels,” stated Tanya Seifried. “Last summer and fall we saw more exposed lakeshore than we did in almost 20 years living on this lake. I couldn’t use my dock or float a boat where I could before. And I’m not talking a few inches here, I’m talking about a few feet.”

“I was surprised to learn the hydro generating station was currently draining water given that we’ve had a relatively light winter this year. My surprise turned to upset when I was shown that the company (Oakville Hydro Energy Services) has taken water below the legal limit and in my opinion they were completely negligent about it,” said Ms. Seifried. “The only legal water gauge hadn’t been used or checked in quite some time. I know this because my husband went  to check the gauge and had to make a path to get to it and there was no hole drilled to check it. He drilled the holes himself and as of a few days ago it was at least two inches below the legal limit.”

“This is upsetting to me and it should be for others,” stated Ms. Seifried. “It’s more than about a few inches it’s a pattern of disregard for the lake levels for years. Starting from the previous hydro generating company to the current one, to Billings Township themselves-because the township turns a blind eye as the more water gets drained the more money they and the hydro generating company make. But at what cost?”

“Lakeshore owners should be concerned about water lines freezing; and who pays for that,” continued Ms. Seifried. “Who pays when I can’t float my boat and have to buy a larger dock. What about not being able to beach a boat at Norm’s Resort because of the level.”

“But the bigger question is what about the impact on the lake, and fish spawning,” said Ms. Seifried. “Fresh water is a precious and vital resource. We need to protect it. Others should care about this.”

“What happens when a delicate resource is mismanaged to the extent it can’t recoup then what?” questioned Ms. Seifried. “There is a limit set for a reason and I expect Billings Township and the hydro generating station to follow it.”

Rob Seifried said, “It is the same old story, we have been down this road many times. They were definitely below the necessary water level mark earlier in the week.”

“The day I checked the gauge-measuring staff, it was obvious no one had been there for a long time because there was 5-6 inches of ice on it,” said Mr. Seifried. “They weren’t taking legal measurements and were draining the water.”

Mr. Seifried said the generating company has to report the measurements to the Ministry of Environment on a regular basis. He pointed out the measuring system is old, the lower water level is going to be a problem for spawning fish. “And I’m surprised more residents water lines haven’t frozen so far.”

However, Billings Mayor Reeve Austin Hunt said, “all lake levels are down on Manitoulin Island. I don’t know if the company was generating and drawing water. There is an 18 inch marker that the company can use to determine if it is allowed to generate power.

Mayor Hunt noted that for the past 20 years the township has heard from local residents at times with concerns that the lake levels are too high, or too low. He said the company operates the generating station, but the province requires them to allow so much water going over the river so fish eggs and spawning areas are not destroyed. “In our agreement if they go below the allowed level within the 18 inch level mark they have to stop generating power.”

“I don’t think that are taking more water than they are allowed,” stated Mayor Hunt. “They are responsible for the water levels and the township makes sure they adhere to the contract. I don’t think they would want to, or have broke the contract agreement, they have a person here in Kagawong that keeps tabs on the water levels.”

Another Kagawong resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Recorder, “the problem I have is that their hands are tied, the township makes money off the plant besides the company. They have a water level scale by the bridge but I was told it doesn’t mean anything. The township could do everyone a favour by putting a measuring device in the water that everyone could see and if the levels are too low everyone would know it.”

“I know people who told me before Christmas that their water lines had froze,” said the resident. “Put some type of gauge or something that makes it simple for everyone to go and look at and know if the levels are lower than they should be.”

The Recorder was unable to reach officials with the MOE or Oakville Power for comment prior to this week’s press deadline.