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'It will just get worse': Pefferlaw River doesn't run through Georgina anymore

Stoplogs not going in until Pefferlaw River dam inspected, deemed safe, says Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority
May 13, 2020
Amanda Persico

The Pefferlaw River doesn’t run through it anymore.

Last fall, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority received a visual inspection report deeming the dam structure along the Pefferlaw River in Pefferlaw unsafe.

And that means the stoplogs that are usually installed in spring to help control the water flow were not put in this year.

That has residents upstream seeing a hazy shade of brown.

What is usually lush, green and gushing is now muddy, dry and trickling.

“The river is left out to dry,” said longtime resident Karen Wolfe, whose home backs on to the river.

“It’s already dry, it will only get drier. It will just get worse.”

The stoplogs or flashboards are usually in place by May 1, providing local residents with a flowing river to kayak and canoe on.

Wolfe is one of many local residents petitioning the town and the LSRCA to maintain the dam and install the stoplogs.

An online petition garnered more than 2,200 signatures as of May 12, calling for the installation of the stoplogs as an interim measure while the LSRCA moves ahead with a detailed inspection of the dam and truss bridge, which was put on hold due to the current coronavirus situation.

Along with the online petition, a new group popped up on Facebook dedicated to the Pefferlaw River, the current situation and dam issues.

Many residents are upset at the lack of communication from the LSRCA about not installing the stoplogs this year.

With the recent lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, the LSRCA is now able to obtain a structural evaluation for the bridge and dam.

The dam has been there in some form for close to 200 years and with that comes an entire ecosystem thriving upstream along the river -- fish, turtles, birds.

All of that would become barren without the stoplogs, which help manage the water level upstream.

“You can’t just change the ecosystem,” said Wolfe, who fought to have the body of water officially labelled as a river.

“It’s not a little wee stream that babbles over rocks. The Pefferlaw River feeds into Lake Simcoe. Now, it’s a mud hole.”

While the riverbanks are bare and exposed, native greenery will soon start to grow and the river will take on more of a natural form, said LSRCA spokesperson Susan Jagminas.

But that has residents concerned about the growth and prevalence of giant hogweed, an invasive and toxic plant that grows along streams and in ditches.

Residents are calling on the LSRCA to install the stoplogs as per usual while the conservation authority works on getting a structural inspection done.

Prior to the bridge being constructed, the stoplogs were installed manually, Wolfe said.

Local residents suggest using a lift truck or zoom boom or erect a steel scaffolding type structure across the river to install the stoplogs.

But a number of safety concerns were raised during the LSRCA’s regular dam maintenance and inspection process, Jagminas said.

As a result, a visual inspection was conducted in November 2019, which found several structural and safety issues, making the installation of the stoplogs unsafe.

Some of the issues listed in the November 2019 report include: deforming and bowing of posts on the truss bridge; wide concrete cracks; erosion on some parts of the bridge and dam structure; broken welds; and the uncertain capacity of the truss bridge.

“With the structural integrity of both the bridge and the dam in question, stop-log installation is not something we could even consider now,” Jagminas said.

“Until the dam and bridge structures are deemed safe for our staff to install and remove the stoplogs, they will not be put in place.”