RICHMOND — The failing Wyoming dam on Wyoming Pond, which is fed by the Wood River and shared by Hopkinton and Richmond, will be repaired next summer.
Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond, who has been pushing for the repair for three years, said he was pleased to hear from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which is responsible for the dam, that the 300-year-old structure would soon be functioning properly.
“It’s moving forward,” he said. “They took the soil samples, which is a step closer to getting the engineering part situated.”
The dam has been leaking badly, and in some years the level of the water in the pond has dropped to the point where homeowners with shallower wells have seen them go dry.
DEM spokesman Michael Healey said the dam was now at the top of the state’s priority list.
“Repairing Wyoming dam is a high priority for the state because it is classified as a high hazard dam,” he said. “ This means there are real risks to life and property in the event of a failure. Work of this kind may be done only during low flow seasons and typically the lowest-flow season is summer. DEM is working with an engineering company to plan and design this repair project. It will start next summer, weather permitting.”
In Sept. 2016, when it was suggested that the dam might be removed altogether, Hopkinton residents packed the Town Hall to express their opposition to the proposal. People said the 26-acre body of water was vital to the quality of life, property values, businesses and even the safety of the Hope Valley community, because the water is used for fire suppression. The Hopkinton Town Council voted unanimously to request that the state repair, not remove, the dam.
Councilor David Husband, who lives on the Hopkinton side of the pond, said he was pleased to hear that the state was moving ahead with the repairs.
“You can’t remove this dam,” he said. “There’s a lot of things involved with removing the dam. Number one is, the water table around here, I believe, is based on this pond and when it went down four or five years ago, I had a call from a guy up the street who said ‘hey, my well just went dry.’”
Price said residents had told him that when the leaking dam causes the water level to drop, their enjoyment of the pond is compromised.
“They bought the property because of the pond and they really enjoy it, and when it’s lowered down like that, it becomes almost unusable for them, especially for people at the upper end of it, because it just becomes like a mud marsh right on the edge of the property and they can’t get their kayaks and canoes in,” he said. “It brings in people from all around the state and abutting states to use it for canoeing and kayaking and fishing, so it’s a real asset to our community.”
Husband said he hoped the repairs would not require draining the pond.
“Are they going to drop the pond level down so they can get to the interior of the dam? I don’t know,” he said.
The work, Healey said, could proceed without draining the pond.
“The contractor will build a protective barrier around one section of the dam at a time so that the pond will not need to be emptied for the project,” he said. “We’re mindful of the possible impact on residents’ wells. Because Wyoming Pond is a designated trout water that DEM stocks before every Opening Day, we also realize it’s an important recreational asset.”