By Jeffery L Carey Jr.
A deluge of rain resulting in a February breach at Thread Lake and unusual weather in general this spring have wreaked havoc on the dams in Flint, causing lower water levels at Thread Lake and issues with the removal in process of both the Hamilton and Fabri Dams.
Rebecca Fedewa, executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC) explained, “During this time of high water, the dam at Thread Lake breached along its western side. The FRWC was informed that as soon as the City of Flint was aware of the breach, they connected with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), as well as, local engineering firms to assess the situation.”
Breach no surprise
According to Fedewa, the breach at Thread Lake Dam came as no surprise as the MDEQ and many others had warned that this was a possibility for many years due to the deteriorating condition of the dams.
For the moment there is no permanent fix for the Thread Lake Dam, and the City of Flint has had issues closing the gate on the dam as they attempted to restore some of the lake’s water levels. Further study of the dam will be required in order to come up with a real long-term solution, but “that could take a long while,” Fedewa said.
Mona Munroe-Younis, a resident of the Thread Lake neighborhood, said people are worried about the long term effect on the lake and their property values.
After the dam breach, Munroe-Younis reached out to Kevin Schronce, lead planner for the City of Flint Planning and Zoning Division. She asked him if there were concerns about there being contaminants in the sediment after hearing also that the island in the middle of the lake use to be used by the military and that she had heard many lead rounds had been fired into the lake.
Contaminants concern allayed
In a letter Schronce responded, “MDEQ was initially concerned with sediment migration, however, after inspecting the situation they told us they were no longer concerned and that we would not have to test the sediment or investigate the creek further.”
Schronce clarified the lake will not naturally refill as it was not a naturally occurring lake but a reservoir. He also explained the reason the dam was installed in the first place (in the 1880s) was so the lake would freeze and ice could form. The ice was then harvested and sold around the city of Flint for people to use in their iceboxes. The current dam was built in 1973.
Schronce added, “The City and Wade Trim [a downtown civil engineering firm] are working closely on a report that would provide cost estimates on potential repairs/replacement/alternatives. The current level of the lake will remain and obviously fluctuate based on weather events.” He encouraged Munroe-Younis “to partner with any community entities who are interested in improving the city of Flint. The only thing at this point that can be done is to wait on the report and then weigh our potential options. Please remember that ultimately, dam repairs are extremely costly and time consuming. The City, as you know, has little-to-no capital improvement funding.”
Rupture offers opportunity
While the rupture of Thread Lake Dam is causing concern, some have seen it as an opportunity, especially for a cleanup set for April 28, Fedewa said. It is the annual Stewardship Day, “where we organize activities across the watershed. Thread Lake has been a traditional location, and we’re working with partners to adjust due to the current lake levels.” With the water levels so drastically low, it is easy for the community surrounding the lake to clean up the trash and debris along the now dry shoreline.
“We are grateful no one was hurt during the breach,” explained Fedewa, “and that the city and state officials were effective in mitigating any immediate danger resulting from the breach.”
She welcomed the community to come out Saturday for the clean up, but warned,“we have longer term concerns for both the health of Thread Creek downstream of the dam, as well as any human health impacts resulting from exposure to potentially contaminated sediments on the lake bed that were uncovered due to the lowering of the water levels.”
Infrastructure needs maintenance
The breach at Thread Lake Dam emphasizes the importance of maintaining and improving Flint’s water infrastructure, including its drinking water pipes, its sewer lines, and its dams; this in the face of Mother Nature’s unpredictability, Fedewa said.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) the typical amount of water discharge flowing in the Flint River is around 1200 cubic feet per second, but April of 2018 has seen levels of discharge well over 4000 cubic feet per second as can be seen in the USGS graph.
Fedewa explained that due to the enormous flux in river discharge there’s been some delay on the removal of the Hamilton and Fabri dams. The temporary coffer dams needed to safely remove the remaining sections of the Hamilton Dam have failed. Because of this, the crew attempted to move downstream to begin work at the Fabri dam, but that has been postponed due to what Fedewa described as, “this crazy spring weather we’ve been having.”
As spring is just kicking into high gear the likelihood of any real work getting done at these sites in the near future is a wash, she suggested. With that in mind, the interested parties are persistent, but they are patient as well. Safety seems to be the primary concern for all involved, so for now, the city awaiting the removal of the dams will have to go with the flow.
EVM staff writer Jeffery L. Carey, Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.