UTRCA officially cancels lingering dam project
Though it has been on the books as a multi-million-dollar capital project for more than 40 years, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority officially cancelled a massive Thames River dam and reservoir project on the border of West Perth and Perth South this week.
The proposed project, which was to be called the Glengowan Dam and Reservoir, was first conceived in 1952, shortly after the conservation authority was established, to provide flood control and flow augmentation for all downstream communities.
The project’s intent was later confirmed by the Thames River Water Management Study in 1975, which, based on the science and understanding at the time, recommended the dam and reservoir as the best way to deal with flooding and water quality problems.
“Work started in the ’70s to assemble land and get everything in place to develop the project, but then in the early ’80s things kind of slowed down,” said Ian Wilcox, the conservation authority’s general manager.
“There was recognition that there might be other ways of achieving the flood control and water-quality benefits that were intended with the dam – other ways that aren’t so intrusive.”
Since then, Wilcox said the St. Marys dike, known locally as the flood wall, was built to help with flood control in the community while additional work on flood control infrastructure in London was completed, making the dam and reservoir project – intended to be the same size and scale as Wildwood, Fanshawe, and Pittock – unnecessary.
But still, the project remained on the books at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, and staff was directed to continue buying up land in the area in preparation for shovels to hit the dirt.
However, funding cuts in the mid1990s put a halt to the conservation authority’s land-buying initiative after it purchased only 25 per cent – about 525 hectares – of the needed land.
“It really limited our ability to do anything on Glengowan, so it just sat there for 20 years,” Wilcox said.
During that time, the conservation authority continued to rent out farmland and homes within the purchased lands, and retired marginal farmland with the goal of naturalizing the flood plain.
Now, Wilcox says the area is one of the healthiest and most beautiful stretches of the Thames River.
Yet while some of the land was returned to its natural state, area politicians have been frustrated with a lack of information over the past two decades as to whether the project was moving ahead or not.
According to Wilcox, the question of whether the land was to be flooded and turned into a reservoir came up every time the county or any of the townships and municipalities in the area had to complete
Work started in the ’70s to assemble land and get everything in place to develop the project, but then in the early ’80s things kind of slowed down.” Ian Wilcox
bridge and road work through the project lands.
Now that the project has officially been cancelled, West Perth Mayor and Perth County Warden Walter McKenzie said planning for municipal projects and maintenance in the area will be much less complicated.
“It frees up some long-term planning. … It is a good thing. It’ll help out for long-range planning – whether it’s roads or what it is,” McKenzie said. “Everyone’s been wondering for quite a few years about what was going to happen with this.”
Though the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority board of directors has not yet made a decision as to what to do with the land, Wilcox said he would like to see the land along the river kept in the conservation authority’s ownership so it can maintain the health of that portion of the watershed.
As for whether that land can be adapted for public use through the establishment of a trail system or if the viable farmland owned by the conservation authority will be sold off, that’s still up for discussion at both the board level and through public consultation.
“I would think (West Perth and Perth County) would be very supportive of (adapting the land for public use), whether it’s for trails, or it’s for snowmobile trails, or what have you,” McKenzie said.
According to Wilcox, the Glengowan Dam and Reservoir project was budgeted at $18 million in the late 1970s, which he believes would have translated to well over $100 million today.
The massive, multi-million-dollar Glengowan Dam and Reservoir project was to be built on a section of the Thames River between Mitchell and St. Marys, near the Village of Motherwell.