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Williams Lake Dam gets support from councillors

Councillors urge province to repair or replace Williams Lake dam

3 min read
caption A paddle boarder crosses a lake in the Halifax area last summer. Dropping water levels in Williams Lake are affecting recreation on the popular body of water.
Josefa Cameron

Councillors on Halifax Regional Municipality’s environment committee have urged Mayor Mike Savage to press the province to replace or repair the Williams Lake Dam.

The motion asking the mayor to write to the province was unanimously passed at the committee’s meeting on Thursday.

The city’s environment committee recommended Mayor Mike Savage ask the province to address the dam’s longstanding state of disrepair, or that the province reconsider granting permits or agreements for community group ownership or maintenance of dams.

Leaks at the dam are contributing to declining water levels at Spryfield’s Williams Lake. 

Coun. Sam Austin said a report from city staff on the issue was deficient in hydrology questions, and said the report had only a surface-level amount of research. 

Regarding the motion’s proposal that the community take ownership of and responsibility for the dam, Austin said, “I don’t think it’s the least bit feasible to expect a community group to take over, in this day and age, running a dam. That seems absurd.”

Richard Harvey, a policy manager for the municipality’s park and recreation department, said there was extensive work done on the report. 

Coun. Shawn Cleary said although the dam’s ownership is unknown, “lakes and rivers are very much so provincial responsibility and dams generally are as well.”

The Williams Lake Conservation Company had a permit for its maintenance until the ‘90s, and the city owns Shaw Wilderness Park and land around the dam.

“The city has skin in the game,” Cleary said. “My preference would be for the province to take this over and pay for it … I would be happy … to have HRM participate in that financially.”

Murray Coolican, president of the Williams Lake Conservation Company, rejected the idea of community group ownership of the dam. 

He said the regulatory process the Department of Environment has for dams “was designed to deal with an organization the size of Nova Scotia Power … it just doesn’t lend itself to community group ownership.”

Harvey said several possibilities could be causing the lake’s issues. “There may be factors of climate change, there may be factors of stormwater or other matters.”

Coun. Kathryn Morse said many dams scattered across the province are in varying states of decay. They were used as part of traditional forestry operations. 

She said this might help explain why the province “may have quite a few considerations beyond this dam when they’re looking at whether they should repair it.”

She agreed the Williams Lake Dam needs urgent attention but said she suspects “the timeline the province is on would be different than the one we might want to be on.”

Margo Kerr, who represents the Williams Lake Dam Association, said the report also did not address the impact the leaking dam has on the local community and the damage to the local ecosystem. 

“The recreational access, the natural beauty, and the sense of urgency were all highly underemphasized,” she said. 

The lake’s surrounding parks “are a treasure and need to be cherished and cared for,” Kerr said, adding “what we would like the government to do is to take this on.”

But she’s afraid it won’t. She said it’s clear the city wants to pass responsibility to the community.

Cleary said the issue is complex and involves different jurisdictions, residents on the lake, recreational and wilderness users. He said it also involves the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.

“The water that flows from the dam, when it flows, is actually their only water supply, and last year, they had to truck in water,” because of the water decline. 

“I think once this does start moving, there would be funding that could come from two levels of government,” Cleary said, adding that he believes he can convince his colleagues and those in the meeting to contribute, “because it is something that is urgent and needed.”


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  1. éiblis Evans

    I urge the city & the Provincial government to help solve the problem re the William’s Lake Dam. Our family lived close to the lake for almost 50 years. We enjoyed swimming in the lake during that time, & were very sad to see recent photos of how the lake has been affected by problems caused by the leaking of the dam. on a sunny Summer’s day we noticed the large number of cars parked close to the lake on the Purcell’s Cove Road. A clear indication of how many were taking advantage of the lake as a recreational asset. I commend Shawn Cleary for his interest and involvement on this issue, I hope his colleagues agree that this project is worth their support.
  2. b


    "The land there really shouldn't be developed," said Shawn Cleary, councillor for HRM District 9. "If that area was developed, then you could conceivably see even more water being diverted from going into Williams Lake." There is no timeline for potential repairs to the dam, but they can't come fast enough for people who live on the lake and use it for recreational purposes. "It has to be done when the water is at its lowest, which is in August," said Kerr.
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