Category Archives: water quality

Protect the Future of Your Investment – Naturalize Your Cottage Shoreline

The shoreline is an extremely valuable and important area – not only for personal enjoyment and property values, but for the health of our Muskoka Lakes, and the critters we share them with.

Nymphaea odorata/ Fragrant white waterlily in Lake Muskoka near Port Carling, ON. Not only is this Muskoka native gorgeous, the flowers are also edible!

Did you know a natural shoreline can:

Protect against erosion?

A natural shoreline is perfectly engineered to protect against erosion. Native vegetation along the shoreline strengthens the structural integrity of the land and prevents it from falling apart. The roots of the plants grip the earth and provide structure, and the foliage and leaves of the plant reduce erosion caused by rainfall and winds. Aquatic plants and buffer plants right along the edge of the shoreline also lessen the effects of wake hitting the shore.

Maintain or improve water quality?

Buffer plants and shoreline gardens reduce incidences of soil erosion, which has the added benefit of protecting fish habitats.

“One could think of it this way: waterfront plant buffers are like eyelashes to our lakes: they keep the grit and goo out”

www.muskokawatershed.org

Filter overland pollutants and absorb extra nutrients?

Vegetation along the shoreline not only helps slow the movement of surface runoff, but the roots of this vegetation also help absorb surface water – trapping excess nutrients and pollutants in the soil.

An excess of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen is one of the factors that can cause an algal bloom – much like how fertilizing your lawn causes it to grow faster. Given that the other main factors are weather related, keeping these nutrients at a reasonable level are the best defence cottagers have against algal blooms. There are many types of algae – an excess of any of these can be harmful to the aquatic ecosystem, but some types (like blue-green algae) can have dire consequences when it comes to our health and the health of our pets. Most other common types of algae are at their most harmful once they’ve died – they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, reducing the amount of oxygen available to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Blue-green algae, via Muskoka 411

Consuming toxins from a blue-green algae bloom can include headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and other more serious effects. It can also kill dogs and other animals. According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, “people not on public water supplies should not drink surface water during an algal bloom, even if it is treated. In-home treatments such as boiling and disinfecting water with chlorine or UV and water filtration units do not protect from blue-green algal toxins.”

Blue-green algae does more than just threaten our health though – it also threatens our property values. Of particular note is the 2005 toxic algal bloom in Three Mile Lake in Muskoka, a lake which has had more than it’s fair share of blue-green algae related woes. This toxic bloom resulted in property values on Three Mile Lake dropping by about 25%. I guess that’s not much of a surprise to anyone after hearing about the health risks… but we should also mention how repulsive it can look and smell. According to former Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Susan Pryke, the worst hit areas of Three Mile Lake “looked like pea soup, with bits of algae floating in the water, sort of like chunks washing up on shore,” and smelled like “garbage that had been left sitting out too long.” Lovely.

Protect wildlife habitats, while ALSO reducing the number of geese that come on your property?

Throughout their lifecycles, the majority of our native Muskoka species depend on a healthy shoreline. The riparian zone (the area that lines the border of the water, with rich moist soils where diverse plant communities can grow) is used for sources of food and shelter, breeding, migration, and for rearing young. This area is also essential when it comes to preventing geese – geese are attracted to open spaces with easy access to the water, and they like to feed on short grass. If you have a goose problem then I’m willing to bet you probably have a grass lawn. A shoreline barrier of native Muskoka shrubs and tall vegetation can help deter them from hanging out on your property.

Moving into the water from the riparian zone, we enter the littoral zone – the submerged area of shoreline where the sunlight still penetrates through to the lake bottom. According to Muskoka Watershed Council, the littoral zone is “the richest natural environment that most of us will ever come into contact with,” with as much of 90% of the species in the lake either living in or passing through this zone. This area (and the aquatic plants and downed trees that it consists of) is responsible for providing oxygen to the lake, spawning areas, shallow protected nursery areas (for fish and amphibians), foraging areas, and hiding spots.

Ducklings foraging in shoreline debris. Mirror Lake, Muskoka, Ontario

Protect the economic benefits associated with tourism?

Nature is one of the major appeals of Muskoka! Wait to catch a sunset while you watch a Blue Heron fish nearby, a family of ducks float past, or any number of other native Muskoka species encounters. Or just enjoy floating in a lake that isn’t thick with potentially dangerous, smelly, pea-soup like blue-green algae… either way, if the health of our lakes isn’t protected it will result in major tourism-related economic losses down the line.

So, how do you naturalize your shoreline?

Getting started with naturalizing your shoreline doesn’t have to be some gargantuan effort – there are some very low effort ways you can get started on your journey to a healthier shoreline for your Muskoka cottage. Let’s look at a few ways you can help work towards a more natural Muskoka, in order of increasing difficulty…

Creating a no-mow zone near the shoreline to allow vegetation to re-establish

This one could not be easier – simply leave an area along your shoreline unmowed. It is recommended that you leave at least 10 feet, but any amount of shoreline buffer is better than nothing! Ideally you would also minimize the amount of entries you have into the water, leaving 75% of the length of your cottage shoreline to re-naturalize.

Bonus points if you follow this “no-mow” philosophy in the shallow water along your shoreline by using your dock as a bridge to get over the weedy shallow parts of the water rather than clearing the weeds to create a swimming area. That way you can still enjoy a clear area to enjoy the water, without harming this essential habitat.

A Great blue heron searching for a fishing spot in Lake Muskoka’s littoral zone

Placing or allowing woody debris to accumulate along the shoreline

Unless a fallen tree is a hazard to boats or swimmers, consider leaving it be! Not a lot of shoreline trees fall around the lake during a year… and clearing a bunch of them away at once can have disastrous consequences to the habitat they were supporting. By the way, submerged wood not only creates hiding and spawning spots for fish, it’s also a major food source for crayfish, aquatic insects, and small fish.

Active planting of native species

So, you’ve already begun to leave the strip of land nearest to your shoreline alone to re-naturalize… but why not help it along even more by planting some native grasses, plants, shrubs, and/or trees? This is also beneficial in terms of appearance – Muskoka has so many beautiful native plant species, so there’s no need to sacrifice the aesthetics of your cottage. People are often surprised how much they love the look of a naturalized shoreline garden.

Native Muskoka flowers, via MuskokaConservancy.org

For more information on plants native to Muskoka, visit Muskoka Watershed Council’s Recreating a Healthy Waterfront.

Removal or “softening” of existing hard structures like retaining walls

While these hard structures may provide a temporary solution to erosion, they can cause damage to neighbouring properties. They can also eventually fail and damage the shoreline they were originally placed to protect.

Instead of removing these structures entirely, there is also the option of protecting the wall (and your shoreline) with softer measures such as planting buffer vegetation. In the case of rip rap, planting can be done between the rocks – the roots of the plants will help with structural integrity, and the foliage of the plants will help to protect against erosion from waves.

An American mink (Mustela vison) swims by carrying dinner. Lake Muskoka near Port Carling, ON.
Resources:

For help with naturalizing your shoreline, check out Watershed Canada’s Natural Edge Program, offered by Muskoka Watershed Council.

For native plant selection, visit The Natural Edge’s Plant Database, Muskoka Conservancy’s Native Plant Program, or Muskoka Water Web’s page on Gardening & Landscaping.

For more information about blue-green algae in Muskoka, have a look at Muskoka Watershed Council’s Technical Bulletin on Algae in Muskoka, or learn about their Algae Monitoring Program.

Muskoka Lakes Association AGM

This Friday, the Muskoka Lakes Association will hold its AGM in Port Carling. Details below and here.

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The 121st Muskoka Lakes Association Annual General Meeting will be held on July 25th at the Port Carling Community Centre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m.

Come and enjoy some refreshments and snacks and have to opportunity to meet other members.  You’ll hear about new MLA programs and updates on activities we’ve undertaken on your behalf.  You’ll also meet incoming President Michael Hart and hear about his ideas for the coming years.

We hope you’ll come out and enjoy an evening with your fellow MLA members.

Please reserve your space by emailing info@mla.on.ca or calling 705-765-5723.

In Muskoka, the environment is the economy. For cottagers, protecting the Muskoka watershed, protects your investment.

This is the most important thing you can do today to help protect the Muskoka watershed which gives us all so much everyday!

The Muskoka Watershed Council has launched an online campaign to bring the 2014 Watershed Report Card to life! This new user-friendly digital report card will provide information on water quality; phosphorus levels in your lake, the likelihood your lake will get algal blooms, the health of your wetlands and tons more. What is not measured cannot be managed. If you love Muskoka and care about protecting its natural beauty please get involved! There are many ways you can help:

  • Leave comments on the campaign page
    • What do you think of this project?
  • Share the link with interested friends and family members
    • Know anyone who loves our scenic environment? Fwd this email!

Please visit the campaign page for further details about this project. It is important to have active participation during the first week of the campaign, so please do what you can to share the care of this special place of rocks, trees, and especially water, that we all love. A small contribution can make a big difference to the protection of our environment. Tell us what you think of the campaign by leaving a comment on the campaign page: www.igg.me/at/StewardshipWorks.

 

We are very fortunate to have such a passionate network of people supporting our mission to champion watershed health in Muskoka and its associated watersheds.

 

Thank you!

Muskoka’s Lakes: The Calcium Story

Dr. Watmough explains  implications of calcium losses on lake ecosystems.
Dr. Watmough explains implications of calcium losses on lake ecosystems.

As mentioned last month in this cottageinmuskoka blog entry and this news story from the Huntsville Forester (Cottage Country Now), the decline of calcium in our lakes can affect our lakes recovery from acid rain as well as zooplankton in our lakes, which are are very sensitive to declining calcium levels.

From the Muskoka Watershed Council Lecture Series I have just finished editing and have just posted this video on the Muskoka Watershed Council’s YouTube page.

This is interesting information of value not only for those who own a cottage in Muskoka, but all of us who live in or visit Muskoka. In the presentation Dr. Shaun Watmough of Trent University helps us understand:

Why should we care about calcium in the environment?

How are calcium levels in lakes, vegetation and soils changing?

What is causing these changes?

What will be the impact of timber harvesting on lake calcium levels?

What are the critical uncertainties?

Declining calcium slows the recovery of acidic lakes.
Declining calcium slows the recovery of acidic lakes.

 

 

Reminder: The Great Muskoka Paddling Experience is this Saturday!

Even if you aren’t paddling in the event, it’s an … ahem… Great Experience to watch.
This Saturday, at Annie Williams Park in Bracebridge, come out and see why The Great Muskoka Paddling Experience has become an epic one in Ontario paddling and beyond.

https://vimeo.com/76351898

The Great Muskoka Paddling Experience generously supports the work of the Muskoka Watershed Council. Past cottageinmuskoka.ca post, and here are some additional links to published articles on the event:

– Muskoka Watershed Council media release: story
– Town of Bracebridge media release: story
– What’s Up Muskoka : story
– Muskoka Magazine: story  (scroll down a page).
– Bracebridge Weekender: story

Timber harvesting and the health of our lakes: The Calcium Story

©www.cottageinmuskoka.ca
©www.cottageinmuskoka.ca

Mentioned in a number of Muskoka Watershed Council lectures over the past few years, calcium decline in Muskoka Lakes and in particular, the consequences of timber harvesting on lake calcium levels have been hinted at as a potential direct cause of declining health of our lakes in Muskoka. Here’s a past primer news story from the Huntsville Forester (Cottage Country News).
This week, we have an opportunity to discover more.

Dr. Shaun Watmough, an Associate Professor in the Environmental Resource Science Program at Trent University in Peterborough will present.
Here is a synopsis of the lecture:
Decades of acid deposition have depleted soil calcium reserves and, when combined with timber harvesting, predicted losses of calcium from soil are considerable and may ultimately threaten long-term forest health and productivity and lead to negative impacts on lakes.
In this talk, Dr. Watmough will provide an overview of our current understanding of calcium biogeochemistry and describe the reasons for the widespread decline in calcium levels in lakes and the implications of calcium losses on soil fertility and forest health in addition to impacts on lake ecosystems.
With an emphasis on south central Ontario, Dr. Watmough will document a nutrient budget for a selection harvesting regime in central Ontario hardwood forests. This work is then extrapolated to regional harvesting activities and management issues are discussed.

The lecture is this Thursday, October 10, 2013 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm at Nipissing University – Muskoka Campus, 125 Wellington Street, Bracebridge, P1L 1E2. As always, admission is by donation

The link for this lecture and registration is here.

Muskoka and Global: Environmental Good News Stories.

Did you know that Gravenhurst Bay in Lake Muskoka is 4 to 5 times cleaner than it was 1970?
Did you know that everyone alive in the 70’s had toxic levels of lead in their blood?
Did you know that Muskoka has only half as many acid lakes as it once did?
Well, how about this then: if it wasn’t for the life in lakes, we would all be blind, deaf , stupid and dead.

Dr. Norman Yan
To be blunt; we would all be blind, deaf , stupid and dead if it wasn’t for the life in lakes.

From the Muskoka Watershed Council Lecture Series I have just finished editing and have just posted this video on the Muskoka Watershed Council’s YouTube page.
Dr. Norman Yan, an extremely engaging speaker, revisits some past environmental successes, what we have learned and the steps we need to take to solve today’s environmental problems.

Phosphorous is the conrolling factor in eutrophication.

Learn how the reduction of phosphorus resulted in a clean up in Gravenhurst Bay while the International Joint Commission was still debating whether its carbon or phosphorus that spikes algal growth? This local Muskoka cleanup helped convince the world that phosphorus is the cause of cultural eutrophication. This phenomena is of increasing concern as population grows and the climate heats up; after all, we learned from this lecture, that algae really love heat.

Current photo of lake in China where people swim in an algal bloom.
Current photo of lake in China where people swim in an algal bloom.

Revisit the change to unleaded gas which got the toxic levels of lead out of our blood. Dr. Yan also discusses the many benefits of the ban on DDT, as well as the immediate benefits of the recent Ontario ban of cosmetic pesticides and herbicides. Also be sure not to miss houses disappearing from view as the Sudbury environment improves over 40 years!

Muskoka. Our environment is far more than our economy.

From the Muskoka Watershed Council Lecture Series I have just finished editing and have just posted this video on the Muskoka Watershed Council’s YouTube page.

All of us should be familiar with the fact that in Muskoka, our environment is our economy; over half our GDP comes from tourism and cottaging. In this lecture, Peter Sale attempts to convince us that our environment is far more than our economy.
sale

Every year some 5 billion cubic metres of water pass through Muskoka – that’s 3 1/2 times the entire volume of Lake Muskoka. Half is evaporated or transpired by Muskoka’s forests and plants, the other half – some 2.5 billion cubic metres flows into Georgian Bay. As climate change affects Muskoka – producing warmer and wetter winters, but dryer summers with more intense storms – we may be trying to find ways to hold on to that water, just a little longer; maybe the beaver has a solution for us.

wetlands 5

Peter, who describes himself as a strange, but harmless ecologist, talks about some of the many creatures in Muskoka including the beaver, the expected effects for Muskoka from climate change, an idea or two on solutions, and that there are other ways of valuing our environment other than simply to value it as a storehouse of resources to dig up and take away.

Algae and Water Quality. Looking back to see the future

As mentioned in previous posts, cottage owners and cottage buyers want to know about water quality on lakes in Muskoka. Because water quality has a direct relationship to property value, and algae – particularly algal blooms – directly affect water quality, we all want to know as much as we can .

I just completed and uploaded a video here for the Muskoka Watershed Council YouTube page. The subject is a talk that was presented by Dr. Andrew Paterson of the Dorset Environmental Centre at the Muskoka Stewardship Conference at Nipissing University in Muskoka (Bracebridge). The event’s theme was What Are You Watching?

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This highly interesting talk looks at studying lake sediments deposited over hundreds – and even thousands of years. Sediments are archives of environmental change and within them are clues to possible triggers of algae outbreaks.

Dr. Paterson talks about sediment research done in Lake of the Woods in north-western Ontario and the Hudson Bay Lowlands which may help scientist understand occurrences in the lakes of Muskoka. There is discussion on the relationship between water quality and property value for cottagers. The seeming paradox of stable or even declining phosphorous levels – the usual algal bloom suspect- at the same time as blue-green outbreaks are increasing. And of course, the effect of climate change.

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Algal Bloom Three Mile Lake 2005

Of particular note is the 2005 toxic algal bloom in Three Mile Lake in 2005, where research may indicate the possible triggers of record high temperatures coupled with record low precipitation which occurred in the fall of 2005 in Muskoka.

Slide 1

There is significant evidence that a warming climate is related to the increase in algal blooms. Dr. Paterson suggests that if algae was the music that we hear from a radio: then phosphorous is the volume; other nutrients (particularly nitrogen), light, etc., influence what species are present – are the “tuning”; and climate is the antenna. The presentation concludes that blue-green algae likes it hot!

Slide 1

Click here for the link to the video on YouTube.