Just a few of the local community members and volunteer firefighters who came out by the dozens one Monday night in March — even as darkness set on the community — to mitigate the potential for further damage caused by flooding in the Willowbrook community after a dam nearly breached upstream. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Unauthorized dam near Willowbrook investigated after near-breach

Incident exacerbated flooding woes for an already flood-embattled Willowbrook community

An unauthorized private earthen dam that nearly breached in March, threatening a mudslide and exacerbating flooding issues in Willowbrook, is being investigated for potential violations of the Dam Safety Regulation according to the provincial government.

As the already flood-embattled Willowbrook community worked to mitigate water flow through the small community, an alarming message came from the local fire department.

“ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION!” began the March 26 Facebook post from the Willowbrook Volunteer Fire Department. “We were just informed that there is a dam uphill from us that feeds into Willowbrook which is being breached as I write this. We are to expect 20-50 per cent more water.”

In fact, it became known shortly after that the dam, situated on Kearns Creek upstream from Willowbrook, had not yet breached — nor would it. However, because of the looming threat of a breach, immediate action was needed, according to a dam incident report.

The document, obtained by the Western News through a freedom of information request, called the incident a “dam alert,” which is defined as “abnormal conditions requiring immediate action to avert breach.”

“Should the dam fail, the flood would travel across a broad, low relief area, where some attenuation would occur,” the report states under the “consequences of failure” heading.

Shortly downstream, the flood would have entered a “confined draw with moderately steep gradients,” sending water onto Willowbrook Road, spilling into Park Rill Creek and into the Park Rill dam reservoir, according to the report authored by senior dam safety engineer Mike Noseworthy.

From there, Noseworthy questioned whether the Park Rill dam would be able to handle the increased flows, “and a second dam failure may occur.”

Noseworthy added the added flow into the Willowbrook area could have caused a failure of Seacrest Road and send more water into the Sportsmens Bowl area “and may include overtopping of Highway 97.”

The Kearns Creek property, owned by Doug Cotter of Cotter’s Waste Bins and Demolition, “appears to be the recent construction of a dam,” Noseworthy wrote, with about 32,700 cubic metres of water in a two-metre-deep reservoir.

Following the Testalinden Dam failure in 2010, regulations surrounding private dams have been changed. Prior to the Testalinden disaster, the Dam Safety Regulation would not have regulated Cotter’s dam due to its size. However, since Testalinden, the regulation has been amended to include any dam that contains 10,000 cubic metres of water or less.

That means the dam would have to be licenced with the provincial government. And those that do not fall under the Dam Safety Regulation still need a water licence, a ministry spokesperson said.

The Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development could not comment on the matter of the Cotter dam, as it is still under investigation.

However, penalties for violations, according to the ministry, could range “from minimums of between $230-$575, up to a maximum of $1 million per day for a continuing offence, up to one year in jail, or both.”

Upon visiting, Noseworthy estimated the dam was just an inch away from water overflowing and made note of three deficiencies, including no spillway for the dam and that it was not constructed to provincial standards.

At the time of the incident, Noseworthy said Cotter had indicated he owned a pump and would use it to lower the reservoir. Later that evening, upon follow-up, Noseworthy found that Cotter had instead installed a small culvert to drain the dam and would be returning later with more pipe for siphoning.

Down below the dam, in Willowbrook, community members were notified of the possible dam failure and work being done, the report noted.

Indeed, the community pulled an all-nighter to protect their homes from flooding a year after they had been struck by the floods of 2017. In all, the regional district estimated the water level grew by about six inches as a result of the dam issue and the continuing flow of water in creeks feeding into the community.

Several calls to Cotter’s cell phone and an email went unanswered this week. However, a woman who answered the phone at his business said the property, in fact, was not a dam, but a natural formation in the ground.

Report a typo or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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