Rowers, Turtles, And An Accidentally Fixed River

(c) Scott Gillingwater/ OntarioNature

Life at the Thames River in London (the Thames River in London, Ontario, not the River Thames in London, England… cause people are ridiculous) has never been better.  A section of the river, near the Springbank Dam, has seen its natural ecosystem flourish over the past decade thanks to the dam itself being broken.  With the river allowed to naturally flow once more, spiny softshell turtles (an endangered species in Canada), fish, and snakes have been able to set up large population sizes, and turn the area back into an important wildlife hotspot.  This might all change however.

Across Canada, it is estimated that there are only between 1,000 and 2,000 spiny softshell turtles left, with the largest population of them living in this stretch of the Thames River.  This is directly related to the fact that the dam is broken, for two main reasons.  One, the naturally flowing river is now able to flush out sewage and city runoff, instead of having it collect in one place, causing nutrient levels to skyrocket.  And two, the naturally flowing river also allows for shallow pools to form, which are necessary for the local turtle and snake populations to survive.  All in all, the naturally flowing river sustains 17 of Ontario’s 26 snake and turtle species- so its pretty dam(n) great.

Unfortunately, the London Rowing Club wants the dam back in working order so that they can row again.  Yep, a rowing club.  They say that with the dam broken, the valuable recreational waters have been lost to them.  How are they supposed to row?!?!?!  Even worse- I know, you might not be able to handle any more bad news-  their membership has dropped from 500 individuals to only 100!!!  It’s a travesty, but fortunately London’s mayor Matt Brown promised to get that dam back up and running in 2014- and an environmental assessment is in the works to do just that by mid-2018.

Now, I’ve framed this as a rower vs endangered turtle type of dilemma, but it’s so much more than that.  Even more importantly than the loss of an important environment for an endangered species, all three of the Indigenous communities in the area have called for the dam to remain inoperable, and for the river to remain flowing.  So think about that for a second.  100 rowers might just get their way, instead of multiple Indigenous communities.  Honestly, people are just flat out awful.  This final decision on the dam won’t be made until 2018, but hopefully the city will come to their senses before then, and not conclude the same thing that they did in an environmental assessment 2003- that the loss of the recreational space is too important to let go.

I just can’t believe that this conversation is even happening- honestly, I thought a thriving ecosystem, with support from Indigenous communities, would be a no-brainer- you keep the dam broken.