CANTON — Selectmen said Thursday night that it’s time to start doing rain dances to fill Lake Anasagunticook in Canton and Hartford.

All the nearly 2-mile-long lake needs is runoff from 3 to 4 inches of rain in one or two storms in the watershed and a beaver dam removed from lake inlet Sparrow Brook.

“The rain will come and all will be well,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Donny Hutchins said Thursday night via Facebook.

Heavy rains came Thursday, drenching Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield, Carthage, Peru, Turner and Lewiston, but not Hartford and Canton, Dave Bowen of Hartford said Friday afternoon. Bowen is a Canton business owner and volunteer chairman of the Canton Lake Dam Advisory Committee, which operates the dam.

“It totally missed us,” Bowen said.

He said beavers are also restricting flows into the lake, having constructed a dam on Sparrow Brook, which empties into the lake. They have blocked a culvert under Route 140 that needs to be cleaned out.

“That has slowed the water from going in,” Bowen said.

The committee has contacted the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for help with the beaver problem because trapping season is in December.

Bowen and volunteer committee member Malcolm Ray, who is also a Canton selectman, run the dam and get unjustly blamed for low lake levels when it isn’t their fault, Bowen said.

It’s the lack of rain, the late ice-out and the annual spring flush of treated sewage from the town’s sewer treatment plant down Whitney Brook into the Androscoggin River to meet requirements from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“The bottom line is, it takes 3 or 4 inches of rain to fill the lake — so far we’ve had 0.85 (of an inch) — the smallest amount since I started keeping records,” Ray said Thursday by email.

Bowen said the rainfall must be heavy enough to provide runoff in the lake’s watershed.  “If we get the 3 to 4 inches a half inch at a time, the ground will just absorb it.”

Additionally, he said ice-out was about a week later than usual and they can’t close the dam until the ice is out and the sewer discharge is done.

“We can’t operate the gates until they are unfrozen and the sewer district can’t discharge until they are ice-free, too,” Ray said. “So, late ice-out plus no rain equals it takes longer to fill the lake.

“I can’t do anything about either one of those — ice-out and the amount of rain — and we can only predict them about a week ahead based on the (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ) forecasts,” Ray said.

“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, because we can’t shut the gates until ice-out because they freeze and we have to open the gates to flush treated sewage after ice-out,” Bowen said.

According to Ray’s records, ice-out was April 21, two of the dam’s three gates were shut around May 1, discharge started on May 3 and was completed on May 10 and all dam gates were shut at 9:22 a.m.  May 10.

Ray said the lake elevation at the dam is 400.5 feet above sea level, which means it’s 2 feet low. Bowen said the summertime average elevation is 402.5 feet above sea level.

“We are sorry the lake is low, but we can’t control the rain and the ice-out date,” he said. “We might have been able to start the discharge a little earlier, but it really would not have accomplished anything since there was no rain.”

He said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection requires Canton Sewer District operator Dave Madison to test for bacteria if the discharge isn’t done by May 15. “If the discharge isn’t done by then, the sewer department has to test for E. coli, which they really don’t like to do, so Dave works hard to avoid discharging past May 15.”

People are claiming that there needs to be better coordination between the sewer district and the dam operation. Ray responded to that, saying Madison must coordinate with his engineer and DEP to do the discharge.

“So it is a little more complicated than just turning on the faucet,” Ray said. “We actually do coordinate quite closely, so I’m not sure what additional coordination people think is needed.”

He said if people don’t like “our standard operating plan, they should contact me.”

“We are just implementing the plan as agreed upon by the Dam Committee and the towns (Hartford and Canton),” Ray said.

“If folks want to petition DEP for a new water management plan, so be it. But they should understand that what DEP will give them is pretty much what we have now. The current plan is really no different than the 1978 court-ordered plan, and ice-out and sewer discharge will always trump grumpy property owners on the lake in DEP’s view.”

In July 2008, Canton took the dam property by eminent domain. A state inspection on Dec. 4, 2006, deemed the dam a threat to public safety and ordered its sluice gates to be left open. That dropped the level of Lake Anasagunticook considerably and riled its property owners, most of whom live in Hartford.

Hartford joined Canton in creating a joint Dam Advisory Committee, because the lake straddles both towns.

Town officials deemed it less expensive to build a new dam. The concrete gravity structure was completed in December 2011 at a cost of about $700,000. It impounds about 4 feet of water.

Canton Water District operates the dam. The committee developed an interlocal agreement among Canton, Hartford, the Canton Water District and the Lake Anasagunticook Dam Commission, which was formed when the dam was completed.

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Canton Lake Dam Advisory Committee member Malcolm Ray’s records about the lake and his operation of the dam from 2014 back to 2012:

Dates for 2014:

1. Ice-out was in very early in April.

2. Two gates closed April 17

3. Sewer discharge completed May 1

4. Last gate closed May 1.

5. A total of 3.43 inches of rain in May.

6. Lake was full (402.8 feet) on May 26.

Dates for 2013:

1. Ice-out on April 17.

2. Two gates shut April 19.

3. Sewer discharge completed at 7:30 am May 3.

4. Last gate shut at 8:50 a.m. May 3.

5. A total of 5.75 inches of rain in May.

6. The lake level was was at 401.59 feet June 1. Six-inch flashboards were added in 2014, so in 2013 “lake full” meant 402.00.

Dates for 2012:

1. Ice-out was not recorded but it would have been a few days before April 20.

2. One gate shut April 20; second one shut April 21.

3. Sewer discharge completed April 23.

4. Last gate shut April 23.

5. A total of 3.5 inches of rain in April after the last gate was shut.

6. Lake was full (402.15 feet above sea level) on April 25.

On June 3, a storm dumped 4 inches of rain in one day.


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