Trent Severn Waterway staff hosted a public meeting for Esson Lake landowners June 2 to address concerns over the impact an embankment erosion has had on lake life and water levels.

As of June 5, the lake was at 2.305 metres, compared with a seasonal average of 2.99.

According to Steven Braham, an Ontario Waterways field unit director, the TSW will attempt to keep the water levels near 2.4 metres throughout the summer.

Higher water levels could result in even worse flooding since a temporary “aqua dam” is temporarily holding water back.

“Out of caution, we took the two weeks to assess the performance of the dam,” said Braham, before Parks Canada crews removed sand bags from in front of a culvert, dividing the lake, which residents use as a through-way.

“The priority is to stabilize the lake… the next step is to proceed with discussions with the municipality and the province,” he said.

The area that eroded is on land of mixed jurisdiction. While a nearby concrete dam is the responsibility of Parks Canada, it’s unclear how the province and Highlands East would complete the project. The embankment is also partially on private property.

Braham said despite not having jurisdiction over the embankment site, Parks Canada will “be working diligently… for a solution.”

Significant rainfall could mean crews must lower water levels to ensure the aqua dam’s safety via removing logs from the adjacent dam.

Park Canada’s plan has drawn criticism from local landowners.

“We are reluctant to put our boat into the water,” wrote landowner Margeret McIntyre in an email. “The lake level is already so low where our dock is located that we will most likely lose the enjoyment of our boat over the summer.”

During the virtual meeting, Braham addressed concerns over Parks Canada’s prior inspections of the embankment in 2021 after a local landowner sounded the alarm.

“At the time we saw clear cool water traversing through the earth embankment,” said Braham.

“We considered it worth monitoring but not high-risk.”

The May 3 breach, said Braham, indicated “there’s a clear underlying issue in that embankment.”

Since the breach, residents have been organizing online and in-person to discuss their concerns over the breach and ensuing low water levels.

“Hopefully we can rest a bit easier that, while not ideal, we should not see another water level drop for some time into the future,” wrote Bob Tisdale, a landowner who has communicated with Parks Canada on the issue, on Facebook.

“We encourage everyone to forward your thoughts to the Property Owners group so that we can keep a consolidated and focused approach,” he added.