As construction on the Bala hydro project continues, some have raised concerns about the impact on all in-water recreational activities from boating to swimming.

“The concern is drowning,” says Mitchell Shriner. Shriner is part of a group called Save the Bala Falls that is opposed to the project. He is worried about the force of water flow created by the turbine and says safety booms will be ineffective.

“What happens when people end up in the water? It would be a mammoth force upstream and drawing people to the intake, and holding them underwater,” he says.

Swift River Energy Limited is the company behind the multi-million dollar North Bala Small Hydro project which will be located at the south end of the dam. It’s a 4.7-megawatt run-of-river waterpower facility that is expected to produce power for 4,000 homes.

The project has had its share of opposition over the years from residents, cottagers and business owners.

The company issued a statement to address the safety concerns that reads in part, ”The risk inherent with boating, swimming etc. in this area will not change.  The area immediately downstream of the North Bala Dam is currently designated as 'no swimming' and has been for a while.”

The hydro company says there will be signage in place to reinforce that message with the community.

The province is backing Swift River Energy by disputing that there are safety concerns, saying any potential impacts have been thoroughly considered.

“We are satisfied that the Bala Falls small hydro project can be built and operated in a manner that is protective of public safety and the environment.  This project has undergone a stringent environmental screening process requiring the company to assess any environmental impacts, detail mitigation measures and consultation with members of the public, including local Indigenous communities.  We have thoroughly considered potential impacts of the facility, including in-water recreational activities, boating and municipal dock access, in its reviews of the elevation requests for both the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Assessment Addendum.”

But opponents say that’s still not good enough.

“They only looked at what happened if you’re in a 70-horsepower motorboat. That’s not the kind of recreation that happens here,” says Shriner.

Swift River Energy expects the province to grant the take water permit soon and will release its safety plan to the public when the hydro station is operational in June.

The province says it will “continue to consult with residents to ensure that ongoing community safety is a priority.”