Judge: Coventry pond owners allowed to keep lowering water levels ahead of storm

West Bay

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The owners of Johnson’s Pond in Coventry can continue to lower the water levels prior to Tropical Storm Elsa’s arrival, a judge ruled Thursday.

The town filed an emergency motion in court earlier this week after learning Soscia Holdings, LLC, which owns the water-flow rights and the pond’s dam, planned on lowering the water levels by two feet.

While Soscia Holdings will be allowed to keep lowering the water levels, the judge limited the drop to 18 inches below spillway, which is six inches less than originally planned.

The attorney for Soscia Holdings claims the reason for this is to prevent potential flooding brought on by the impending storm and and protect the pond’s high-hazard dam.

“We would prefer to be on the side where we could control [the water] rather than be out of control,” owner Doug Soscia said in court Thursday.

The ruling reflects the recommendations of dam gatekeeper John Fonseca, who explained in court the best course of action is to drop the water levels upwards of 18 inches and adjust as the rain falls. 

“They are predicting four inches of rain and you get one inch,” Fonseca explained. “I drop it a foot, then the pond doesn’t come back. I don’t want to be responsible for that so I monitor the level of the pond.”

The R.I. Department of Environmental Management, which is in charge of inspecting dams across the state, previously told 12 News they’re not recommending dam owners in Rhode Island lower the water levels before this week’s storm based on the state’s rainfall projection.

Robert Fairbanks, an experienced dam engineer, told the court Thursday he’s never been involved with a dam owner that has “manipulated their pond levels this way.”

Coventry Town Solicitor Nick Gorham called the ruling cautious, adding that lowering the water levels could have devastating impacts on the pond.

“If this storm blows by, it’s going to be very hard to get the rain back,” he said. 

Both the town and the pond’s owners will be speaking to the judge Friday afternoon, which is when the storm is expected to arrive, to determine whether it’s necessary for the water levels to be lowered further. 

As of Thursday evening,  approximately one foot of water has been drained from the pond.

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