September 30, 2015

Hillsburgh pond options to be presented next year

As published in The Erin Advocate

The first Public Information Centre in the Environment Assessment of the Station Street dam and bridge in Hillsburgh will not be held until early next year.

The Town of Erin must decide on rebuilding the bridge, which is now 98 years old, and was identified as in need of replacement as early as 1973. Pond preservation is also a major issue, both in Hillsburgh and Erin village, since the dams not longer meet provincial safety standards.

Just a few miles downstream on the West Credit River, there are similar issues as Credit Valley Conservation studies what to do with the popular dam and pond at the Belfountain Conservation Area. A Public Information Centre on their EA and Management Plan was held last week, with local residents concerned more about visitor flow than stream flow.

The Hillsburgh EA is a $190,000 project, with future work on the bridge, dam and road expected to cost well over $2 million, whether the pond is saved or not. Part of that would include installing infrastructure to service future housing west of the pond, with development fees possibly offsetting the cost.

The road was closed in 2011 due to a failing outlet pipe and emergency work was done in 2012 to make the road safe for traffic.

The start of the EA was announced in November 2014, and a full cycle of seasons was needed to study the plants and wildlife in the pond ecosystem. Triton Engineering is assembling a Background Information Statement, and will prepare an outline of possible options for the Public Information Centre.

The EA is actually the product of a series of studies on factors such as the cultural and heritage value of the pond. The Elora Cataract Trailway runs by it, but recreational usage is very limited since the pond and most of the adjacent land is privately held.

All of the options will be costly, but it will be interesting to see if there is any political support for innovative solutions that benefit fish and the river environment. Or will the Town be content to simply maintain safety and a scenic view?

Construction of a narrow channel to handle the main flow
of the West Credit River is one of several options in a study
of the pond and dam at Belfountain Conservation Area.    
There are some differences with the Belfountain situation, but both have sub-standard dams and sediment-filled ponds. The Belfountain study, available on the CVC website, could provide a preview of some of the issues to be debated here.

What will be the impact on local wells? Are we willing to alter the man-made pond ecosystems that have developed over the past 190 years? Is it better to leave the sediment, dredge it or let it wash downstream? Should we create more usable land by partially filling in ponds? Do we preserve ponds as valuable assets, or let the river gradually return to its natural state, including wetlands.

One of the most interesting options outlined in the Belfountain EA is construction of a by-pass channel that would handle most of the stream flow. The pond would be preserved with a new dam, but it would be “off-line” from the main river – the same concept as at Stanley Park, or the new channel around Wolf Lake at Terra Cotta Conservation Area.

Such a system would provide the colder water temperatures that fish need, and a route for them to swim past the dam. It won’t be the cheapest option, but it might satisfy some of the local concerns while improving the environment.