The City of Greenwood has to decide whether or not to take over maintenance and liability of the Providence (Marshall) Lake Dam from the province of British Columbia by the end of June.
Discussions about the fate of the dam between the city and the province began in October 2010, after the Providence Dam was flagged as “high risk” in a provincial dam inspection report. The province noted that unless local government or a public body decides to step up, the dam will be decommissioned and the drain would have the lake back to its original size.If decommissioned, the lake would drain along Providence Creek and enter the north end of the city before entering Boundary Creek. The Okanagan Fisheries Section of the Ministry of Environment currently maintains Providence Dam.
Chris Stevenson recently created an online group called the Marshall Lake Stewardship Group to bring awareness to the issue.
“This group was created to achieve one goal – to preserve Marshall Lake,” he said. “The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources has the licence for the dam and since the Testalinden (mudslide in Oliver, B.C. in 2010), the Fish and Wildlife dept. has been working to transfer the licence, or decommission the dam. I believe that this lake is worth saving and I know that other people feel the same way.”
Marshall Lake is located in the Boundary Region between Grand Forks and Greenwood. The rock filled dam has increased the natural size of the lake from 2.64 to 6.5 surface hectares.
“It doesn’t have to be the City of Greenwood, it could be the public,” Stevenson said. “The letter (from Tara White, senior fi sheries biologist for the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources) that went out said that option one was to keep status quo and to keep it with the government, option two was for it to go to the local government or public and option three was to decommission the dam.”
White pointed out in her letter, that “the Okanagan Fish and Wildlife Program doesn’t have the staff capacity or resources to maintain the dam and conduct annual repairs.”
Stevenson, a former city councillor, noted that the issue fell off Greenwood city council’s radar with the switch in council during the 2011 election, though he has been trying to raise awareness through social media and is trying to form a society or co-op.
“I’m thinking we can do a co-op where everybody will purchase a share, so for $25 you can own part of the lake,” he noted. “There are creative ways to do this that require grassroots, broad base support.”
Stevenson noted that while the City of Greenwood is interested in maintaining the lake, the upkeep of the lake won’t work with just the city alone.
“We need to start to think about environment stewardship in this region because this isn’t the only thing that has come up or will come up,” he said. “If we don’t act right now we’re going to lose it and it’s never going to be there again. We don’t have very many lakes here and it’s doable if a committed group of people get together.”
At last Monday’s Greenwood city council meeting, Mayor Nipper Kettle noted that city council passed a motion that they agree in principle but they will defer the decision.
“City staff has recommended that we not proceed,” Kettle said. “But that doesn’t mean you always go with the recommendation. We will be asking the government for an extension in the deadline. It’s a very tough situation because obviously the ministry/government would like to get rid of it.”
The mayor pointed out that the dam has been there for a long time and will be there for more years to come.
“Ultimately it boils down to risk and risk management and liability,” Kettle said. “I don’t know if I would want to strap the citizens of Greenwood with the possibility of anything catastrophic ever happening. It’s a beautiful site with camping and picnic tables, it will still be there but it’ll be much smaller.”
Marshall Lake has a recreational value with its campgrounds and picnic tables, Kettle pointed out.
“We’re looking at ways to keep it, but we do have to have a decision to make soon,” he concluded, noting that Marshall Lake is located in the regional district of Area D.
RDKB Area D director Irene Perepolkin has declined the possibility of taking liability of the lake.
“We don’t know what the liability is of the cost of bringing it up to standard,” she explained. “The (government) gave an estimate of about $135,000 to $400,000 just to bring it back up to standards before we could even get liability insurance on it. I’m not interested on taking on the cost for Area D.”
Perepolkin pointed out that there isn’t a sufficient number of her residents who use the area during the summer time.
“They do use it for cross-country skiing during the winter quite a bit, but the level of the water isn’t prohibited for that,” she added. “The lake isn’t going to completely disappear, but the water levels will be lowered to what they originally were if (the government) does decommission it.”
If a group was to be formed, Perepolkin said, “Area D wouldn’t mind helping maintain the lake but we wouldn’t want to have any stake hold in it. It’s not something my area is willing to support at this time.”
The Providence inspection occurred after the Testalinden dam incident near Oliver, B.C. in June 2010. The incident resulted in a debris and mud torrent that damaged a number of homes and agricultural areas.