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

Having been quoted and questioned over the past while, I felt pressured to comment when I saw in the EMC, that the local council had passed a motion against Enerdu (Mississippi Mills passes motion against Enerdu). I wondered what consideration they had given their own plant, in the making of this decision. The stopping or halting of the Enerdu project and the potential cancellation of the new weir, could have a serious effect on the operation of the Mississippi River Power Corporation’s plant (The Town of Mississippi Mills is the sole shareholder) at the base of the third cascade of the river. This project is now providing a substantial return to the town each year. This will increase substantially in the coming years.

Enerdu is proposing a new hydraulic generating station, under an initiative provided by the provincial government, to be built on their property. There are local designers and artists who would love to be part of a group that could help make this station an addition to the uniqueness of Almonte.

In order to keep the river as we are used to it, the beach, the boating, the scenic beauty we need a control weir. The current archaic method of plywood and boards is ugly, inefficient and is partially perched on a concrete dam that is well in excess of 100 years old. The safety of the people who install the boards is always a concern. An automated one, as proposed, is the most practical. This would keep a constant water level (at the height of the existing boards) except during the spring freshet when they would be lowered to the same height as the bedrock. Currently the boards do not all break away in the spring holding some of the water back. A constant water level would benefit the beach, boating, (all kinds) the aesthetics of the downtown, it would be better for tourism and I am sure the fish would be more content. The final height would have to be approximately that of the existing boards. This height has been approved by the MNR as well as the Mississippi River Water Management group. It has its teeth in the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act, with fines for violations sufficient to cause concern for even those with deep pockets.

Despite concerns that the generating station would take up more of the width of the river, it will also pass a great deal of water (approximately40 cubic meters/sec) and it will be in the interests of the operator to keep it that way because for them it is business. Flooding will not be a concern, when the generating station was built on the site of the old Collie Woolen Mill in Appleton, flooding which had been a problem most winters was almost eliminated.

The subject of heritage has also arisen. The heritage of Almonte is waterpower; this is the reason for the town’s location. Hydroelectric power became a reality in Almonte in the late 1800’s. The Metcalfe brothers were players in private power but when the movement to public power became an issue in the early 1900’s, the Metcalfe brothers sold their operation to the town and Dr. A. A. Metcalfe became a hydro commissioner. He was the main reason that all of the electricity, which the town needed was produced locally until September 26th, 1944, when a contract was made with The Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario to provide extra power. By the late 1980’s the percentage of power produced locally had dropped to about 10%. There have been a number of changes since that time but the Mississippi River Power Corp’s new plant is now producing about 75% of the power used locally. Dr. A.A. Metcalfe can be credited with pioneering this effort. This puts us among a unique group of small towns in Ontario.

Almonte is also unique in the fact that a major Canadian producer of hydraulic turbines (Canadian Hydro Components) is also situated here. Their equipment is shipped all over the world. It is the heart of the Mississippi Mills hydro plant as well.

In the late nineteen eighties when the Almonte Flour Mill came up for sale, Almonte Hydro investigated it’s purchase. Mississippi River Power Corp. looked at this site again in 2003 with an engineering group. Unfortunately unrelated issues kept the project from proceeding. In both cases, plans for it included a bladder operated weir system, similar to the one presently proposed by Enerdu. The benefits to the town plant would be in the ability to raise the water enough in the pond above the Flour Mill to form an ice cover. There is generally no ice cover between the southeast town limits and the falls at Enerdu. Although the river only drops approximately 7 inches between Appleton and the first cascade in Almonte, there is a significant enough drop in the river between these two points, that in very cold weather the water actually freezes in crystals but is moving too fast to actually form a sheet of ice. These frozen crystals (frazil) causes no end of aggravation for the local generator operators causing tens of thousands of dollars in operation, maintenance and loss of production costs. An ice cover eliminates the production of frazil ice. In the cold weather water running over the rock falls when there is no weir is super cooled and freezes to the trash racks, adding to the aggravation caused by the frazil. Then there is anchor ice (slush), which forms on the bottom of the river where there is no ice cover and pops off in the warmth of the morning to add to the merriment. Any amount of weir helps.

The cancelling of this project could have serious consequences for the town. At this point Enerdu is going to replace the dam and weir and maintain it for at least the next 40-50 years, at no cost to the municipality.

If Enerdu is forced to abandon the site and the dam, the cost of it’s replacement and maintenance could fall back on the town, probably through the Mississippi River Power Corporation. They cannot afford to let the weir disappear; their operation would suffer greatly and the ratepayers of Mississippi Mills will be the ultimate losers.

Brian J. Gallagher, former manager of Almonte Hydro