Hydro-Québec hatches plan to prevent flooding below volatile dam

The power utility will be significantly improving the capacity of a dam that nearly burst during this spring's flooding, nearby residents learned yesterday at the first public meeting since they were evacuated.

Rouge River community evacuated in April over concerns Bell Falls dam might fail

The swollen Rouge River is seen from above in late April 2019. Hydro-Québec says it's increasing the volume of water that can flow through the Bell Falls dam. (CBC)

Hydro-Québec will significantly improve the capacity of a dam that nearly burst during this spring's flooding, nearby residents heard during the first public meeting since their community was evacuated.

Roughly 75 people living in or near Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Que., were placed under an evacuation order in April 2019 after water levels on the Rouge River reached heights that had never been reached in recorded history.

They were allowed to return one week later when Hydro-Québec declared the Bell Falls dam was no longer in danger of failing.

Seven months after the evacuation order, residents of the western Quebec town just across the river from Hawkesbury, Ont., had their first meeting Tuesday night with officials from the public utility.

While some in attendance said they wished they'd been told sooner about Hydro-Québec's intentions for the dam, most were relieved to hear a plan had been forged.

"Hopefully this'll be the last time we have to go through this kind of emergency situation with the dam," said Sharon Graves, who has lived in the area 25 years.

The Bell Falls dam, 16 kilometres north of the Ottawa River, was in danger of rupturing during the spring floods. Some 75 people were evacuated, but the dam ended up holding firm. (CBC)

'Not going to be easy'

The plan involves upping the volume of water that can safely flow through the dam, which was built in 1915 and has not generated electricity for about a decade, from 990 cubic metres per second to 1,200 cubic metres per second.

To do that, Hydro-Québec will modify the turbines inside the dam's powerhouse, project co-ordinator José Kanou said.

Crews will also excavate the right bank of the dam site and demolish a concrete wall, Kanou said.

"It's not going to be easy, of course. We're working in winter conditions. There's going to be a lot of elements against us that we don't have control over — mainly Mother Nature," he said.

"That being said, we're still going to do our best to get the job done on time."

Residents pleased with Hydro-Québec plan for Bell Falls dam

3 years ago
Duration 0:47
Gilbert Landry and Sharon Graves, who both live along the Rouge River, say they're happy with the plan to increase the capacity of the dam after experiencing emergency evacuations last spring.

Spring deadline

The aim is to have the work completed by spring so the dam is ready for another potential flood.

Gilbert Landry, who lives along the Rouge River and was forced out in the spring, welcomed the news.

"We've been waiting for these answers for a long time. It took [the utility] seven months, unfortunately ... but the answers they gave us tonight are very positive," Landry said.

"It's a big plus for [reducing] our sleepless nights that we've had the past few months."

With files from Denis Babin and CBC Montreal