MFVN Appleton Wetlands study earns MNRF praise

by Edith Cody-Rice

Enerdu flashboards on the Mississippi River at Almonte
Enerdu flashboards on the Mississippi River at Almonte

Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal that two experts on the staff of  the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) agree with the conclusions of the study conducted by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) entitled The Appleton Wetland; Its Decline, Cause and Recommended Action. Thomas Noland, a respected Tree Biochemistry Research Scientist with the Ontario Forest Research Institute of MNRF described it as a credible study with scientifically sound methods and adequate due diligence, and stated that in his opinion “the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists have made a good case and should be listened to”.

Shaun Thompson, District Ecologist and Management Biologist with the Kemptville District of MNRF concluded that “the report has definite merit and is worth considering the recommendation and make some attempt to better understand the situation”.

A third expert, Doug Ryan, Engineering Technologist was of the opinion that the data was not adequate to support the requested amendment

Read the opinions here Summaries of Evaluation of MNR F experts

All of the experts noted gaps in data, which were acknowledged by the MVFN in the study. Records were simply not available prior to 2006. The MVFN report was prepared in the context of a request to review the permitted water levels in the Mississippi River Water Management Plan, a request that was initially made by the MVFN in 2012. The conservation of a Provincially Significant Wetland is supposed to trump other development, including development of a hydro station.

The saga began when the MVFN submitted a report requesting an amendment to the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) to protect the Appleton Wetland. In November of 2012, the Standing Advisory Committee (SAC) to the MRWMP recommended that the Ministry proceed with an amendment to the plan that would reduce water levels set by Enerdu operations, and that would allow recovery of the maples in the wetland. In March of 2014, the MVFN presented further work and again requested an amendment. Finally, in August of 2014 the MVFN finalized a study of the Appleton Wetlands, which had been conducted during 2013-2014, entitled The Appleton Wetland; Its Decline, Cause and Recommended Action and submitted it to the Ministry. It is this study that is reviewed by the experts.

The Appleton Wetlands are an approved Provincially Significant Wetland which contained healthy silver maple trees. These trees have been experiencing significant die back well documented in 2006. The question raised was “what is causing the die back?”

The study examined all the possible causes for the die back in the forest – 60% of the trees are dying or dead. After considering the impact caused by  1) disease and/or insects, 2) increased water flow in the river, 3) toxic run-off from the former Appletex Site and 4) flooding due to the water management regime, the study concluded that the die back was due to the increased summer time water levels caused by the insertion of flash boards at the site of the power generating station in Almonte now owned by Enerdu.

The old flour mill, which has been there since the mid 1800’s was converted to a hydro power generation plant by the Dupuis family, who purchased the mill in 1988. Although historical evidence suggests that flash boards had been used in the past to direct water toward the mill, the new owners raised their level by about 6 inches around 2000 and employed a strategy of shutting off generators periodically to further increase the water levels during the low flow summer season and maximize power generated at the station .

These increased levels were incorporated, without further study, into the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) which came into effect in 2006. Documents received under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act show that the Ministry of Natural Resources recently conducted a search for approvals of the increase in summer water levels at the Enerdu site through the 1990’s and 2000’s and could find no evidence that there had been any approval or application for approval of the increase. It appears that the then owners of the generating station simply inserted the flash boards on their own initiative.

The MVFN study recommended

  1. The MRWMP be amended immediately for Reach 18 (Appleton to Almonte) to set the level of 117.4 masl, as measured at Appleton, as the maximum operational summer water level from May 1 to October 31.
  2. The amendment provisions must include a five year test period during which the conditions in the Appleton Wetland must be monitored closely for signs of tree recovery and for evidence that 117.4 masl is a valid operational summer water level, with the option of adjusting water levels in the remainder of the test period if warranted.
  3. A further amendment provision must include a thorough evaluation of results at the end of the test period to establish a final Water Management Plan for Reach 18.
  4. Approval of the current upgrade plan of Enerdu must be delayed until the recommended MRWMP amendment has been resolved.

The process of the amending the Water Management Plan was ongoing when in April of 2015, Cliff Bennett, president of the MVFN received a letter from Dan Thompson, the district MNRF  manager in Kemptville stating that the process would be suspended while the Ministry updated the regulations concerning the location  approval and operating plans for new dams. In spite of the conclusions of two experts, the letter stated that the ministry “will not be making any modifications to the Mississippi River WMP at this time pending completion of a review of requirements for dam approvals, operating plans and the amendment process for WMPs.”

The letter goes on to say that the Enerdu project will meet the requirements of the Mississippi River Water Management Plan as it stands, the very management plan incorporating summer water levels causing the die back of the trees. A request by Al Seaman of the MVFN to meet with the Ministry to discuss the contents of the letter was met with an emphatic refusal.

A notice posted to the Environmental Registry at the end of this July indicated that the review of the regulations process had reached a decision – the first draft document on locating dams was approved as revised, and that the remaining three draft documents, including the one on revising Water Management Plans, were deferred. This raises the question of what rules now apply to amending the MRWMP.

The MVFN study noted that there will be little or no increase in hydro generation as any gains made at the Enerdu site will come at the cost of the reduction in hydro generation at the Appleton Generating station, due to the increased level of the river. Included in the recent Freedom of Information documents was a brief analysis of power production by MNRF staff that reached a similar conclusion.

Mayor Shaun McLaughlin who has written to Premier Wynne to alert her to the real and potential problems caused by the Enerdu generating station, recently received a letter from the Minister of the Environment advising that Enerdu’s Permit To Take Water, which is up for renewal, will undergo a scientific technical review to ensure that the water takings at the generating station are not impacting sensitive natural features such as the Appleton wetland. The existing permit expiry date has been extended until November 30, 2015 in order to allow sufficient time for the ministry to undertake its review. The letter states that the application will also be posted on the Environmental Registry for a 30-day public comment period. Letter from Environment Minister Murray – August 2015