City can’t afford to replace dams

NANAIMO – Losing two dams is sad, but we will be gaining a spectacular ravine, and there will be pools in the bottom for fish to reside in.

To the Editor,

Most of the drivel being written about the Colliery Dams can be summed up in one word: narcissism.

The dams are more than 100 years old. The Chase River was there long before coal was discovered in Nanaimo, and it deserves to be returned to its original state. Not only is it the most productive salmon stream in Nanaimo, it produces more salmon than all the other small streams combined; up to 2,000 coho and 3,000 chum.

Losing two dams is sad, but we will be gaining a spectacular ravine, and there will be pools in the bottom for fish to reside in. Wild salmon are in serious decline and the additional 800 metres of the Chase River that will be recovered when the dams are gone are worth the cost.

It is morally unacceptable to hold more than 200,000 cubic metres of water over the heads of 1,800 people, knowing that even a small earthquake could cause dam failure.

If those who want to save the dams should swap houses with the people who live in the floodplain below them, they could walk around them during the day and sleep in their beds at night knowing that they would be the first to go if they failed.

If the dams failed from a flood event, it would be a rain-on-snow event such as we had in the Christmas of 1996 when three feet of snow was washed away in a few days by six inches of rain.

In those conditions, no one would be able to run from the wall of water from the collapsed dams.

If the dams were destroyed by an earthquake, the people of Harewood would be in a state of shock, extricating themselves from the rubble of their houses and looking for their families. They would not be in any shape to run a kilometre to evade the flood.

The real unknown is called ‘piping’, which is when the water finds a way through the dam walls and erodes them from within. This has happened hundreds of times around the world, and it can lead to dam failure within an hour, as happened in Corpus Christie, Texas in 1930.

Again, the wall of water would be disastrous because it would be chock full of mud, boulders, trees and the concrete from the Howard Avenue bridge.

Nanaimo already has a $1-million annual liability from the operation of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. We already have a $22-million cruise ship terminal sitting idle for more than 300 days of the year.

We cannot afford another $20 million to replace two dams that should never have been built in the first place.

The money that some would like spent on replacing the dams should be invested in the city’s future, not in the past.

Charles Thirkill