'We had no choice': Goderich moves to protect water treatment plant from rising lake levels

A recent rise in water levels on Lake Huron has municipal officials in Goderich, Ont., spending more than $1 million to protect the town's treatment plant for drinking water.

Lake levels in early 2020 expected to break record set back in 1986

A recent rise in water levels on Lake Huron has the town of Goderich, Ont., spending more than $1 million to protect its treatment plant for drinking water. 

The plant is located less about 30 metres from the water's edge. Mayor John Grace said municipal officials became concerned in August about increasing erosion and rising lake levels. 

"That's a very significant piece of infrastructure for the community, that's our drinking water," he said. "If we did nothing, there could be damage to the plant and its chlorination equipment. We had no choice but to move as quickly as possible."

To keep rising water away from the plant, the town hired a contractor to truck in tonnes of armour stone from the Owen Sound area. 

The stone will be used to form a wall along the shore to protect the water plant and its surrounding area from flooding. 

The original plan was to wait until spring 2020 to do the work, but Grace said the town had to step up that timetable to ensure the plant was protected. Work began in early December could continue until February, depending on weather.

No small expense

It's an expensive project: Grace said the final bill will likely be between $1.5 million and $2 million, no small expense for a town with a population of less than 10,000. 

The town will have to dip into reserves built up by water user fees to pay for the work. 

"It's not small potatoes, but it needs to be done," said Grace. 

In addition to protecting the water plant, the town also had to replace a lakeshore boardwalk battered by high waves during storms in the fall. 

High water levels have caused problems for property owners up and down the Lake Huron this year. 

Throughout 2019, lake levels have approached the record set in 1986. The Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, which oversees much of the Lake Huron coastline, predicts the lake will continue to rise in early 2020 and will be about 30 centimetres higher in January and February than the same period of 2018.

Stephen Jackson is the flood and erosion safety service coordinator with the conservation authority. He said fluctuations in lake levels are part of a natural cycle, with the peaks and valleys separated by anywhere from eight to ten years.

The lake level is measured in metres above sea level. Over the past 50 years, it's ranged from a low of about 175 metres to a high of 177.5 metres set in 1986. 

The town of Goderich, Ont., is spending more than $1 million to protect its drinking water treatment plant from rising lake levels. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"What's different this time is the speed of the rate of rise," he said. "So we hit a record low in 2013 and here we are in 2019 at record levels."

Jackson said the level of precipitation and evaporation are the only significant factors that determine the lake's level.

Also, it's not clear where the lake levels will go after an expected rise in early 2020. 

"At then end of the day, it really comes down to what the weather is like in the coming months," he said.

The high water levels causing problems in Goderich are also leading to erosion of the high cliffs along many areas of the lakeshore.

The rising water has threatened lakefront properties which Jackson said were built under less stringent rules and when the lake may have been lower.

He recommends that property owners concerned about lake levels contact their local conservation authority before building any expensive shoreline protection. 



Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.


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