Wilberforce resident Mark Bramham points to his dock while standing just above the breach in the earth dam on his 300 acre property. Parks Canada is now on-site. /DARREN LUM Staff

Property owner said dam breach a warning

By Darren Lum
Wilberforce resident Mark Bramham laughs, saying it was “dam shame.”
The tongue-in-cheek comment is something he tells people who ask him about the breached earth dam on Esson Lake, which he discovered while working on his property on Tuesday afternoon (May 3) last week.
“I was pulling taps … and there was no sign of a problem at two o’clock. I came across the [dam]. It looked fine. When I went back at 6:30 [p.m] that’s when there was a problem. So, I could hear the water rushing and saw it coming through the woods and saw the water was rising up higher and higher than the bridge, so by that time it was 6:30,” he said.
Bramham has owned the 300 acre property with his wife Sandra since 1971 and the dam was there. They operate Esson Creek Maple & Greenmantle Mineral Tours where they host people to learn about maple syrup production and to learn about minerals. He used what Parks Canada calls an “embankment” regularly to cross between his two sections of property that bridges what is close to the width of a road lane. He was immediately worried when he saw the breach to the dam, which he believes was made in 1905.
“I was worried about everybody that was involved. The people on the lake, losing their water. I was worried about the people down stream, who may be flooded out and had no warning. I worried about the roads and whether they would wash out. I worried about the wildlife. It wasn’t so much about me. I felt I had to alert as many people as possible and it was just rainy and it was late at night,” he said.

Bramham made calls to the police, and anyone he thought could help such as a friend, who works at the Ministry of Natural Resources, including the township. A Parks Canada representative came out the next day, telling him they had a plan. From a prepared emailed statement made Thursday, May 5, Ontario Waterways Parks Canada’s strategic advisor, Karen Feeley said they were alerted of the “breach of an earth embankment” on May 3.
“Parks Canada staff have been on location since the initial reported breach to assess and monitor water level changes and resulting impacts. The breach is not expected to pose a risk to private property or municipal infrastructure. Parks Canada is working on temporarily blocking the culvert underneath Essonville Line to retain water in the northern portion of the lake. As a result, the small southern portion of the lake will experience significantly reduced water levels to allow access for an inspection of the breach and surrounding embankment. Property owners north of the culvert closure will experience lower than average water levels, while property owners south of the culvert closure will experience significantly lower than average water levels. Boating across the culvert will not be possible for the time being. Parks Canada is working with provincial and municipal stakeholders and local property owners to provide updates as necessary. Parks Canada will continue to monitor the area closely and will provide additional details as they become available,” she wrote in an email.

Parks Canada installs sandbags at the culvert on Esson Lake to lower the water, so they could assess and then repair the breach in earth dam on Thursday, May 5, which occurred on May 3. /DARREN LUM Staff

Getting told a plan was in place has alleviated some of Bramham’s concerns. He believes the culvert under Essonville Road factored in averting a greater problem.
“That culvert is saving our bacon because it’s a way of slowing down the water. Now, if a lake doesn’t have a culvert, then what do you do if there is a breach in the dam? They got to think of these contingency plans,” he said.
For Bramham, he believes this is a warning to take heed of and wants more attention paid to these kinds of dams to avoid what happened.
“Make sure Parks Canada, or whoever, has enough money to look after the aging infrastructure and we all need to realize how important our water is to not only ourselves and the economy, but also the wildlife and everything. Our forests and so on. We need to manage it and get serious about keeping it in good shape. It’s like going to It’s the same thing with infrastructure,” he said
Bramham hopes that time and money will be invested in preventing future problems with dams like the one on his property.
“A lot of our dams are over a 100 years-old and we need to maintain [them] because if we don’t everybody loses,” he said. “I think we need to listen to landowners. I’ve owned this property for over 50 years, so I’m aware of changes that happen and I tried to alert them. They’re the experts and I’m just an old man. They know more,” he said sarcastically. He said he was told this dam was being monitored after he alerted Parks Canada about his concerns before this breach.
“Hopefully, there will be a good outcome. That they’ll be able to save the water on the lake and repair the problem,” he said.

Feeley said since starting, there has been Parks Canada staff on site to assess and monitor water level changes and resulting impacts.
“We are currently still in the assessment phase and working towards an interim repair, which is expected to take several weeks to implement. This interim repair is expected to allow the portion of the lake south of Essonville Line road to have its water levels increased with negligible expected impacts on the water levels in the portion of the north of Essonville Line,” she said.
The long-term repair of the “earth embankment” is planned for the coming winter when related water levels are down.
“Parks Canada will continue to provide additional details of both the interim and long-term repairs as they become available. In the interim, Parks Canada has initiated an email list to update property owners promptly. For property owners to be added to the list, they can email trentsevern@pc.gc.ca with “Esson Lake” in the subject line.”