Sunday, May 24, 2015

Celebrating the Thames

Even without a working dam, Londoners enjoy visiting their river.

Years ago I wrote a feature for The London Free Press called Celebrate the Thames. At the time, the move to have the river declared a heritage river was gaining traction and the folk running the paper were in favour. They thought this assignment was tailor-made for a photographer willing to write as well. I was a staff photographer and, as luck would have it, I was given the assignment.

In the time I wrote about the river I came to appreciate not only the Thames but all rivers. Furthermore, I came to admire the enthused folk who were pursuing the dream of having the Thames honoured with the heritage designation. Today, those visionaries have seen their dream realized: the Thames is a Canadian Heritage River.

The Thames River is not a large, mighty river. In fact, just an hour outside London, the river is small enough that a young boy can straddle it. Yet, its small size can be deceiving; it meanders some 270 km through Southern Ontario before emptying into Lake St. Clair. Originally the river ran through rich, and rare for Canada, Carolinean forest in which tulip, pawpaw, Kentucky coffee, and sassafras trees could all be found. Some of the wildlife and fish species in the Thames watershed were equally rare in Canada.

To celebrate the Thames is to respect its true nature and the important role the river plays in the unique ecology of Southern Ontario. A dam, like the one temporarily out of commission at the west end of Springbank Park in London, does not belong on our heritage river. A damn like this says residents living alongside the river are out of tune with nature and have turned their backs on the river.

According to The London Free Press:

The (Springbank) dam plays no role in flood protection, instead it keeps water levels higher in the river during summertime, which is a crucial part of the city's new Downtown Master Plan focusing on many riverside amenities. (Like canoeing, I assume.)
"For it to be that attraction, and be that experience, that higher water level really is important," says John Fleming, city planner.

Clearly, the City of London plans on turning the river in its core back into a reservoir but acting as if it is celebrating the river. In truth, the city and city planners like John Fleming are celebrating a reservoir. They are celebrating the presence of high water backed up by the dam and sitting almost stagnant, thick with algae at the forks.

Kayakers paddling on Thames inspite of damaged dam.
I would encourage the city planning department to get their thinking out of the past and into the present. Dams are no longer seen as win-win structures. There are environmental prices to be paid and these can be steep. When a free-running, more natural river is dammed, its flow impeded, water quality, fish numbers, and wildlife composition can all suffer.

The failure of the Springbank Dam some years ago has made it very clear that the river is much healthier without the structure. It is time to consider the alternative to the dam: a free running river.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Hope it is decommissioned and left to be the river nature intended. Fanshawe provides lots of recreational opportunities.