DEM orders owner of Johnson’s Pond dam to raise water levels
State authorities are taking legal action against Soscia Holdings over water levels at Johnson’s Pond, a man-made reservoir in Coventry that is at the center of a bitter and highly contentious row.
Johnson’s Pond is surrounded by summer cottages, whose owners typically use the pond for recreational activities like boating and jet skiing. But its water levels are determined by Soscia Holdings, the private company that controls the dam. Owners say Soscia Holdings routinely drains the pond to the point where it is unusable, turning it into one big mud pit.
Those frustrations prompted push for legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee last month to give more control to the state.
New law prohibits water level changes without state permission
Under the new law, private dam owners are not supposed to make significant changes to water levels without permission from the Department of Environmental Management. In July, shortly after the law took effect, the DEM issued a cease and desist order to Soscia Holdings, saying water levels “are at historic lows for this period. of the year”.
On Wednesday, DEM announced that it had issued a compliance order to Soscia Holdings, charging the company with violating new state law and ordering it to restore water levels to normal.
After:As McKee touts new law regulating Johnson’s Pond water levels, dam owner faces state fines
The DEM will work with the Attorney General’s office to enforce the order.
“Johnson’s Pond is an important community and state resource, and it is imperative that its water be maintained at reasonable levels in accordance with state law,” Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement. . “As alleged by the Department of Environmental Management, the uncontrolled discharge of water from the pond by Soscia Holdings is not only detrimental to the pond and those who benefit from it, but is not inconsistent with a recently passed state law designed to protect water levels at dams and reservoirs.”
Under the new law, private dam operators can be fined $1,000 a day for noncompliance.
Pond owner says RI blocks ‘economically beneficial use’ of land
Soscia Holdings claims the new state law is unconstitutional and is challenging it in court. A lawsuit in federal court in July argues that the DEM deprives the company “of any economically beneficial use of its property” by requiring it to be submerged.
The pond would be valuable as dry land, and preventing Soscia Holdings from draining the water is a “grab” of private property, according to the lawsuit.
After:A private company controls the water levels in this RI pond. This led to a bitter feud
The owners of Johnson Pond have long maintained that low water levels are harmful to the environment and could be the reason toxic blue-green algae are appearing in the pond.
In an affidavit submitted with the compliance order, DEM fisheries biologist Gabriel Betty said it was “more likely than not” that low water would harm freshwater mussels that live in the pond.