The dam at Irrigation Lake does not meet safety standards and will be removed if plans are not in motion by July 29.
Stakeholders of Irrigation Lake, also known as Dunalter Lake, got a letter June 26 from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations saying that they want a new water licence holder and an engineered plan in place by July 29 or they will start pulling out the dam.
“We’re almost in a panic mode because the letter says July 29, and everybody wants to go on vacation,” said Steve Page, representative for Rock Nest Ranch and Rough Acres Bible Camps on Irrigation Lake.
The Irrigation Lake dam, built in 1947, was found to be below safety standards in a B.C.-wide survey done after a 2010 dam failure near Oliver, B.C., which destroyed five homes and several orchards.
After that dam failure, dam safety regulations changed in 2011 and as a result the Irrigation Lake dam changed classification from ‘low consequence’ (if the dam broke) to ‘significant consequence.’
Steve Page, representative for Rock Nest Ranch and Rough Acres Bible Camps on Irrigation Lake, said that change was a big deal.
Changing the classification means there are more regulations on the dam and many extra steps involved to bring the dam to standard, he said.
Brennan Clarke, Public Affairs Officer for the Ministry, said in an email that the water licence for the Irrigation Lake dam has been abandoned, and the province will not take over the licence.
Before they remove the dam, Clarke said the Province and dam owner are offering to transfer the dam and the water licence to interested parties.
Asked about upgrades needed to bring the dam to code, Clarke said the dam needs an overflow spillway and any other potential upgrades would be determined by the engineer.
Page says the District of Houston estimated the dam upgrades to cost $90,000, but he estimates it to be closer to $40,000 (for both engineering and construction).
“It’s a big squeeze on two non-profit organization camps,” said Page.
Page says that the consequences of the dam removal to the camps would be more than the loss of swimming, canoeing and kayaking opportunities – it would also cause problems for their water intake and each of their geothermal systems, which are underneath the lake and are used for heating and cooling camp buildings.
Page says that with a pending deadline of July 29, the primary concern of groups is the $10,000 engineered rehabilitation plan, and figuring out who should pay that first $10,000.
Stakeholders include two Bible camps on the lake, two surrounding landowners, the District of Houston who owns the park on the east side of the lake, and the Ministry of Environment who stock the lake, said Page.
He adds that on top of those issues, he has looked at engineers and found that the closest engineers in B.C. are in Kamloops and are busy with other projects.
“Even if we had the money sitting here right now, I really doubt we could meet July 29,” he said, adding that they had an offer from an engineer who would do the plan in May, but he’s not sure if that offer is still on the table.
At the Houston council meeting last week, Shane Brienen, Deputy Mayor for the District of Houston, said that when council discussed the situation last year, they felt they could not justify paying the full amount for the dam, estimated at that time to be $90,000 or more.
Brienen says the park at Irrigation was put there in the early days for swimming lessons, and now they have a hard time justifying spending that much of taxpayers money when Houston is already high on recreation and they have a pool now.
“We’d have to discuss it again because we’ve had a new budget of course and things change, but we weren’t opposed [last year] at looking at a three way partnership between the province and either a company or some other way of raising the money,” said Brienen.
Brienen says council will discuss it again and gather more information before any decisions are made.