Town must increase water flow in Tay River: Perth mayor

Perth’s Tay River at Last Duel Park
A view of Perth’s Tay River at Last Duel Park. Town residents are concerned that installation of ramps intended to control water flow are responsible for historically low water levels in the Little Tay branch flowing through town. Photo credit: Chris Must
Posted on: October 16, 2019

The Town of Perth must do whatever it takes to increase the flow of water in the Tay River, said Mayor John Fenik at the conclusion of a public open house at the town hall Oct. 15.

“My decision is clear,” said Fenik. “Something has to be done.

“The status quo is not acceptable.”

About 50 members of the public as well as town staff, council members and representatives of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) and Parks Canada attended the Oct. 15 public meeting. A dozen individuals each made presentations of up to 10 minutes in length, and most blamed reduced water levels in the river over the past few years on the installation of two “rocky ramps” intended to regulate water flow.

The first ramp was constructed in 2015 following the removal of concrete dams which had outlived their useful life spans, followed by a second ramp two years later. Weirs and dams in the Little Tay and Main Tay channels in Perth date back to the late 1800s. Background on the recent decision to install rocky ramps was provided by Michael Yee, senior biologist at the RVCA. Yee said the purpose of dams or ramps is to maintain the balance of water flow between the Little Tay and Main Tay while allowing migrating fish to pass through. Regulating the water flow is intended to reduce spring flooding, while maintaining a “split” in which 80 per cent of river water flows through the main Tay channel, and 20 per cent through the Little Tay. The river splits into two channels flowing around the area comprising Stewart Park, with the channels rejoining past the Tay Basin near Drummond Street.

Yee said that after planning to replace the original concrete dams began in 2008, the price of a new concrete dam rose to over $1 million. The installation of rock ramps in the river was chosen as a more affordable compromise.

According to Yee, low water flow during dry seasons should not be blamed on the ramps. “The ramps are doing what they were supposed to be doing,” he said. “Whether it’s a concrete dam or a rocky ramp, you would still have the same conditions.”

A number of town residents who made presentations during the meeting pointed out that water levels have notably decreased since the ramp at the entrance to the Little Tay was built. Thomas Todd showed slides of photographs taken at the same time of year and in the same locations in various years to illustrate the difference in water levels before and after the building of the ramps

“We’ve witnessed a decrease in flow with the installation of the Rocky Ramp,” said Todd. “The decreased flow affects residents, but also potentially tourism and businesses on the Little Tay.”

Other presenters complained that historically low water levels have led to shallow, stagnant water fostering the growth of algae, bacteria and mosquitoes.

Town resident Jeff Lee said he and other concerned citizens asked specific questions about the design of the first ramp at a public meeting on July 17, 2014, a year before it was installed, but were unable to get “solid answers.” He said the finished ramp appeared to be much larger than expected. Rocky ramps, added Lee, are “a relatively new approach to water management,” and as a result, there are “no experts in this field.”

Lee urged town official and council to ensure that the public has more input in developing solutions to the water flow problem. “Let’s not make the same mistake again,” he said.

“Water is life,” said Glen Wright, who has lived on the river for 60 years. Because there is no longer enough water for fish or wildlife, he added, “Our river is dying.”

Scott Redhead, a resident of Lewis Street next to the Little Tay, compared that branch of the river to a “clogged artery.” Where there used to be rapids and the sound of rushing water, there is now stagnant water full of garbage and dead animals, he said.

Another presenter, Hugh Weld, said he agreed that more water needs to flow into the Tay, but blamed the shortage on the water management practices of Parks Canada rather than on the new ramps. “We’ve got the split right, we’ve got the ramp right,” said Wells. “What we need is more water flowing down the Tay.

“Fairly simple – until you talk to Parks Canada.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Fenik said a report will be presented to council next month. It will be up to council to make a decision to move forward, to identify options, and to choose the best option, he said, adding that in his opinion, “It’s not a big cost fix.”

Article by Chris Must