Honeymoon Bay dam may be salmon saviour

An old, largely forgotten dam at Honeymoon Bay could get a new lease on life.

An old, largely forgotten dam at Honeymoon Bay could get a new lease on life.

The concrete structure was used as part of the water supply system for the community at one time. It hasn’t received much love lately, but that could change if area director Ian Morrison can see an idea through to fruition.

In recent years, Honeymoon Bay’s water has switched from a surface source, either Ashburnham Creek or Cowichan Lake, to well water as per Island Health regulations.

Therefore the dam has not been front and centre in the area’s consciousness.

“There’s been logging over the years above Honeymoon Bay and, because of major rain events like we’ve had lately or major rain or snow events in winter time, the whole impoundment area behind the dam filled up with debris,” Morrison said.

Funding was secured for one expensive cleanup but “weeks after that work was completed another rain event happened and essentially it filled right back up,” he said. “It’s an area where there is debris instability and you can’t keep going back to whoever was our funder for that, for more funding.”

However, another point of view reared its head at the beginning of this summer.

“On a day back in June when there were a lot of biological and conservation experts on hand at Honeymoon Bay to look at chinook fry that had been found in Ashburnham Creek, I said, ‘Hey, if I can get the key to go up there, do you guys want to go up and look at the dam? I’ve got kind of a neat idea I’d like to try on you.’”

They found their way through the undergrowth to the dam, and discovered it was plugged full.

Morrison said he suggested that if coho and chinook fry were finding their way to fairly small stretches of good habitat like Ashburnham or Sutton Creeks, it might be worthwhile to investigate an idea that had been tried at Beaver Lake Resort.

“They basically restructured a weir so they could hold water and do some spring pulse flows. [Cowichan Lake] Salmonid Enhancement [Society] was involved and lots of community people along with Jim Humphrey from the resort,” he said.

“The whole idea is that when the water starts to dry up and pools start to form and the smolts are in there, that they can do a controlled release of flows from behind that weir to help flush all those down into the safety of the lake, kind of like what is done in the fall to encourage the salmon to come up to the spawning grounds. In the spring it’s to get the babies out,” Morrison said.

Looking at the Ashburnham dam, the biologists suggested to Morrison that if the impoundment area at the Ashburnham dam was cleared out, and we could store water behind the dam, the idea has a lot of potential.

A possible added bonus might be the chance for some micro-hydro generation. The CVRD had a report commissioned a few years ago, according to Morrison.

While it was discovered that from a straight investment/return perspective that might not be practical, Morrison said he’d like to see the subject re-opened.

“Could there be a project that had environmental fisheries values and might also generate some income through the freshet season in fall and winter by creating a micro-hydro project? It’s a two-pronged approach to a dual repurposing of a little-used structure. The really important question is could it be done in such a way that the cost of excavating the impoundment area could be reasonably spread out and could the regular maintenance be funded over a period of time?”

But doesn’t the dam fill up every year?

Morrison said the biologists were encouraged by finding a lack of scouring on the surface, with lichens and mosses growing on the top layer of gravel.

“There wasn’t fresh debris coming through and scrubbing the top off it. Their first guess was that because there hasn’t been active logging up above recently that there’s been some stability in the slopes. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a debris torrent above or that it’s in the clear now. But given all of these facts, it’s worth it for us to begin exploring the feasibility,” he said.