Town seeks funding for spillway to solve water level concerns at Wallum Lake in Burrillville

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BURRILLVILLE – Town officials have been working on a plan to establish water levels at Wallum Lake and will now apply for state funding from the Municipal Resilience Program in hopes to build a new spillway at the dam. The project is expected to cost $460,000 and, if approved for the grant, the town’s match would total $115,000 or 25 percent.

“We’ve been at this for a couple of years, trying to figure out what the summer levels should be and what the winter levels should be,” said Public Works Director Jeffrey McCormick.

“Multiple residents and the Eleanor Slater Hospital have expressed concerns to the administration on fluctuating lake levels,” noted a memo to councilors on the project.

Currently, McCormick noted, the water level at the lake is controlled by a man-operated 3′ X 3′ sluice gate.

“Now you have a spillway with a human being to open and close the dam,” said McCormick.

“It should be much easier to operate,” he added of the proposed improvement.

DPW and the Conservation Commission operate and maintain the dam and gate, and have been working with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on the resolution.

Councilor Raymond Trinque noted that many residents showed up at a recent Conservation Commission meeting with complaints.

“It’s at what we consider to be the right levels now, historically, but they still are complaining,” Trinque said.

“For half the people, it’s too high, for half the people, it’s too low,” said Councilor Dennis Anderson.

McCormick noted that recently, the water was about six inches higher than the normal level.

“I know in the wintertime the problem was with the Douglas State Forest people,” said Councilor Stephen Rawson. “They wanted their docks out of the water.”

Rawson noted that when he was taking care of the dam as a member of the Conservation Commission around ten years ago the issue was water flowing over Wallum Lake Road.

“We had flooding issues across the road because they opened the dam too much,” Rawson said. “The soot was built up so much in the basin of the river there was nowhere place for the water to go other than over the road.”

McCormick said that at the time, there were trees blocking the water.

“That’s been cleaned,” said the DPW director, noting that the problem was caused by a pipe collapse. “The real issue was, when it fills up it overflows the banks of the river and goes down toward the ditches on the side of the road.”

Now, McCormick added of the gate, “You can open up the dam completely and it won’t flood the roadway.”

Funding for the project to construct a new spillway could come through the statewide program, considered an, “action strategy,” to combat concerns caused by climate change, which is managed by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.

“A spillway might solve your dam problems,” observed Councilor Justin Batalon.

McCormick will also apply for funding for a second project to install a new culvert at the Centennial Street bridge at a cost of $500,000, with the town’s matching portion to total $125,000. He noted that if approved, the town would need to expend the grant by December of 2025. The program aims to address such flood control issues, as well as water and sewer projects.

“I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to get it this first round,” McCormick said. “I think sewer and water projects are going to take precedence.”

Councilors unanimously approved the expenditure of matching funds for the two projects of up to $240,000.

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