THUNDER BAY – The unauthorized draining of Boulevard Lake earlier this week produced minimal environmental impacts, the City of Thunder Bay reports.
An assessment of the lake and downstream areas prompted some fish rescues, but turned up no dead fish nor significant damage to fish habitat, the city’s director of engineering and operations, Kayla Dixon, said in an interview.
The lake crept back up to allowable summer elevations Wednesday morning, but is still expected to take several weeks to return to where it was before 11 of 12 gates on the Boulevard Lake Dam were lowered without authorization Sunday night.
They were raised on Monday, but not before water levels on the lake fell by an estimated 1.2 to 1.3 metres.
The Thunder Bay Police Service has opened an investigation into how that occurred, Dixon said.
Members of the force’s Break and Enter and Robbery (BEAR) Unit are actively investigating the incident, the TBPS confirmed.
The city has ruled out hacking as a possibility, as a new automated system had not yet been installed, Dixon said. The city also did not have security cameras installed in the area.
The most likely scenario is that someone manually operated individual activators on each gate, the city has said.
The city has no immediate plans to launch a formal investigation of its own, Dixon said.
Coun. Andrew Foulds praised city administration for what he called a swift and serious response, but said it’s key the city gets to the bottom of what occurred.
“It’s certainly my expectation that there is a full-blown investigation, we find out what happened, how it happened, and who did it,” he said. “We can’t have this happen again.”
As to how someone was possibly able to access the dam’s controls to tamper with it, it’s a situation Dixon said would not be possible once the automation system is installed.
“Certainly any of our infrastructure, it’s important for us to make sure it’s secure,” she said. “As part of the automation process, that will be completed.”
Lake levels fell to around 210.3 metres above sea level Monday morning, but had recovered to 210.9 metres by Wednesday morning.
The city is obligated to keep levels between 210.8 and 211.8 metres above sea level during the summer, under a federal permit to take water.
The city retained TBT Engineering Ltd. to perform an assessment of the lake’s perimeter areas and downstream of the dam, to determine if fish had been stranded as water levels dropped
“At this time, we’re thinking there’s been minimal impact environmentally to fish habitat and fish in the area,” Dixon said. “We did have some fish rescue completed in those areas, and it has been confirmed that no dead fish were found.”
A new floating water park at the lake was expected to reopen on Wednesday, with one feature temporarily closed due to lower lake levels.
“Certainly the city’s happy to see that we have the public able to use the lake as intended over the summer, especially as we get into summer vacation and kids getting off school,” said Dixon.
The incident cast an unfortunate pall over what should be a banner year for Boulevard Lake, Foulds said.
“The people of Thunder Bay spent almost $10 million on a new [dam],” he said. “I’d say probably 93 per cent of the feedback I’m getting is that it’s awesome, they’re loving the lights, they’re loving the walkway, they’re loving the public art.”
He called for whoever is responsible to face serious consequences.
“In a day and age where we’re looking for good things, that dam, the new playground, Boulevard Lake, the tennis courts, the pickle ball – this is a really good news thing, and someone did something really bad to it. I’m just beside myself angry.”