In London, the Thames River has been dammed in one form or another by a Springbank Dam from the 1870s through to 2005. The Thames has long been an important feature of life in London. The dam provided consistent higher water levels and allowed for use for a range of purposes including recreational canoeing and boating.
The river is part of the Thames River watershed which is located within the agricultural heartland of southwestern Ontario. It covers 5,285 square kilometres and more than half a million people reside in the watershed. From its headwaters near Tavistock, the river flows 279 km southwest before reaching its outlet into Lake St. Clair and, ultimately, into Lake Erie.
The dam was being rehabilitated in 2008 with new steel gates and was being commissioned when one of its gates failed to function properly. All gates are needed to be working in order to maintain a higher water level east of the dam so the remaining 3 gates were also lowered so the water would flow freely. The river has been without a functioning dam since.
In April 2009, the City of London issued a Statement of Claim for $5.2 million in the Superior Court of Justice against five defendants, including the engineering consultant and the company responsible for the design, fabrication and supply of the four gates that form part of the Springbank Dam project.
The project of rehabilitating the gates has been delayed as the City proceeds with litigation. Court dates are set for early 2016. The City recently tested 3 of the gates to better understand the condition and functionality of the gates support the litigation launched by the City. Only two of three gates were successfully raised. The gates were lowered at the completion of the testing.
At this point in time the matter remains in litigation. Council’s direction to City staff continues to be to pursue litigation to develop a plan to undertake remedial work and to recover the cost to repair the Dam. The resolution of the various legal actions is a complex matter noting the City, the Province and the Federal governments, in partnership, spent about 6.8 million dollars on the project.
A new design for the gates was proposed to improve water control on the Thames which would have a number of benefits; reduce the potential for flooding and soil erosion along the river banks, and have a safer gate system for operators and the public.
The Thames River contains at least 90 fish species. There are other dams along the Thames River – in London further upstream at the Hunt Weir (located behind Labatt Breweries where the weir obstructs fish passage) on the river’s south branch and the Fanshawe Dam on its north branch.
Under the old design the stop logs were not installed until mid-May, which allowed fish to pass the dam and spawn further up-stream towards Hunts Weir and the Fanshawe Dam. The plan for the refurbished dam was to raise the gates later in the season, on or after June 15 primarily to permit fish passage up stream during the spawning season.