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Sediment flow from Windsor Reservoir raises concern

DALTON – Concern and frustration is mounting for a local farmer and environmental group regarding downstream effects stemming from a dam on Windsor Reservoir – a dam that was supposedly fixed several years ago.

The original dam was a stone masonry and concrete structure built in 1865. Over time, the dam’s masonry arch spillway began to leak and show other signs of deterioration.

In 2005, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Office of Dam Safety determined the dam to be in “unsafe” condition and a high hazard potential, and in 2008, the DCR issued an Emergency Order citing the dam as a public health and safety threat. An emergency drawdown of the reservoir was ordered, no permits or evaluations of impacts required.

The engineering firm Tighe and Bond was hired to redesign the dam. Reconstruction of the dam was completed in April 2010.

But according to the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), the dam still doesn’t function properly. It leaks and the reservoir has to be drawn down periodically.

When the reservoir empties is exposes underlying sediment, which gets carried by water over the dam’s spillway during major rain events. The sediment turns the brook downstream a murky brown color and runs all the way down to Wahconah Falls and beyond.

According to BEAT’s Bruce Winn, this is a violation of the Clean Water Act. The sedimentation also causes problems for fish and other organisms that live downstream from the dam.

“It just does terrible things to wildlife to have silt like that in a stream,” said Mr. Winn.

“There were constantly cycles of brown, muddy water flowing down the brook through our farm” said Dicken Crane, owner of Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton. “The very high levels of sediment at times made it very difficult to use the brook the way a farm typically does for irrigation.”

In addition to soiling the brook used by the farm, the sediment has also impacted nearby Wahconah Falls State Park. As Mr. Crane explained, the falls used to be a great place to swim, but now a sign informs visitors that swimming is not allowed because it’s unsafe.

“The impact has been very significant and for a very long time,” he said.

Mr. Crane added the whole issue began without any permitting or planning to control the sedimentation of the stream when the reservoir is empty.

“There’s a ton of things they could have done,” he said. “They could have used hay bales, they could have done all kinds of things to stabilize where the stream flows through the bottom of the reservoir when there’s no water in it.”

Instead, the stream is free to flow through the reservoir bed and erode it, carrying the sediment downstream.

“There’s been no effort or planning for any kind of control of the erosion,” said Mr. Crane.

BEAT tried sending a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, and they have not responded.

“As far as the engineers are concerned, their business there is done,” said Mr. Winn.

“Because the conservation river and waterways protection laws and regulations don’t apply, there is no incentive for them to get this done right the first time or quickly if they have to repair it,” Mr. Crane explained. “So they just dawdle along as if there is no reason to be concerned because they are not facing fines or other penalties.”

According to the Dalton Fire District Water Commission, which owns the dam, the situation is under control.

“We’re having work done by the company that built the dam to control some of the seepage,” said James Driscoll, head of the water commission. “We’re doing everything we can to try to get this alleviated.”

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Posted by on July 18, 2013. Filed under Community Events,Featured,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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