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Wildlife advocates sound alarm over Trail dam decommissioning and land remediation

Cambridge reservoir and Violin Lake dam used as a drinking water source for Trail until 1994.
Wood strewn on the dried bed of Violin Lake. Photo: Submitted

When thinking about wildland remediation, one may picture a serene field of fluttering flowers, butterflies, wildlife, maybe a marshy wetland filled with chirping birds and amphibious life - quiet restoration to the way rural land was meant to be before man set down his imprint.

This is not what restoration efforts at Violin Lake and Cambridge Creek presently look like, now that decommissioning the unused Trail dams and waterways is underway, which involves land remediation.

In fact, it’s not looking like natural landscape at all.

The area is muddy, with deep tracks slicing through tracks of land that are full of biodiverse earth. Great stretches of the area, and what appears to be the dried up bed of Violin Lake, are strewn with what looks like chopped up wood bits — seemingly as far as the eye can see.

So, what gives?

After receiving correspondence and photos from citizens alarmed by the way Violin Lake and Cambridge Creek are being tended, the Trail Times contacted the city.

The Times asked about the respective photos — which are concerning — as well as the “plan” now underway.

John Howes, the city’s engineering technician, did promptly reply. Here’s what he had to say.

“This entire project has required careful planning and continuous construction management for the removal of the dams and restoration of the area,” he began, noting access to reports and supporting studies of the project are open for viewing on the city’s website. ( and search “Violin Lake Project”)

“The City of Trail has closely examined this project looking for potential significant adverse environmental, social, economic, health and heritage effects of the dam decommissioning project,” Howes continued.

“Before proceeding with the dam removal project, the city assessed these effects during the decision making. After this close examination, the City of Trail planned the full decommissioning of the dams in 2021 so that no storage of water — beyond natural storage — may remain.”

For clarification, he said the current water level of Violin Lake is at, or near, its natural level.

The anthropogenic reservoir area on Cambridge Creek is to be restored back to natural wetland conditions, Howes noted.

“The restored wetland area would have a series of ponds combined with planted native vegetation that are designed to further support the natural ecosystem.”

The area is not pretty when drained, he added.

”However, when given the opportunity, this is an area naturally ready to grow and further support the ecosystem. The extended documentation on the project may provide some answers to … questions and concerns.”

Dam history

The Cambridge reservoir and Violin Lake dam system was used as a drinking water source for the City of Trail until 1994.

The original system consisted of a dam built across Cambridge Creek and another across Goodeve Creek, the natural channel for Violin Lake. The creeks drain in opposite directions, north and south respectively.

In 1968, the city increased storage capacity of both dams and installed a piping system to increase year round availability.

In December 2019, provincial dam safety management ordered the City of Trail to either upgrade the spillway at the Cambridge Creek Dam or pursue its decommission. Accordingly, the City of Trail opted to decommission both the Cambridge Creek and Violin Lake dams.

Trail worked in partnership with the British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF) to obtain the government’s permission for removal of both dams.BCWF has assisted the city in applying for grants to restore wetlands and streams that were affected by dam construction as part of the dam decommissioning project.

Read more: No plans to decommission old Trail dam

Read more: Trail takes first steps to decommission old upland dam

Read more: Contract awarded for takedown of Trail dams

Read more: Abandoned vehicles causing concern near Violin Lake

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Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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