Category Archives: water

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.

2014 Muskoka Summit on the Environment

As a volunteer, as well as being on the executive of the Muskoka Watershed Council, I am the videographer/video editor. This gives me a great opportunity to ensure that truly wonderful ideas and presentations are not lost after the words are spoken and the video projector is turned off. I record, edit and post to our YouTube channel, lectures and presentations at Muskoka Watershed Council events.

Elena Bennett from McGill University presents the 2nd lecture from the 2014 Muskoka Summit on the Environment. On June 8th and 9th I recorded the presentations over the two day summit. Broadcast, in part, by CBC Radio’s Ideas with Paul Kennedy, (here’s the 2014 Muskoka Summit CBC broadcast), these were world-class lectures, presented here in Muskoka. I am delighted to be able to ensure these are available to the world.

CBC Ideas: Muskoka Summit on the Environment
CBC Ideas: Muskoka Summit on the Environment

Understanding the relationship and implications of planning future multiple land use – bundling cottage use with agriculture for example – can help municipalities and land owners. This lecture is now available at the following link on Muskoka Watershed Council’s YouTube channel: Using Ecosystem Services to Design Multifunctional Landscapes. With a project still underway in La Vallée-du-Richelieu, Elena discusses how communities and scientists can get together to plan land use (bundling certain ecosystem services) while minimizing some negative environmental impacts.

The Question & Answer video is also available here.

The length of the "petals on the "flower" indicate the amount of the ecosystem service provided.
The length of the “petals on the “flower” indicate the amount of the ecosystem service provided.

Copyright © 2014 cottageinmuskoka.ca, All rights reserved.

Robert Sandford Questions & Answers

I just completed and posted another video of Robert Sandford from the University of Saskatchewan, at the 2014 Muskoka Summit on the Environment.

This is the question & answer session following his talk: Come Hell & High Water:
Scientific Truth and Economic Consequences In Hollywood Disaster Movies mentioned here.

Copyright © 2014 cottageinmuskoka.ca, All rights reserved.

Shark-Filled Tornado (Sharknado) Unlikely in Muskoka!

Don’t be put off by the “grabber” title; this is an engaging and informative presentation on hydrologic change brought about by Climate Change and well worth your time.

As a volunteer, as well as being on the executive of the Muskoka Watershed Council, I am the videographer/video editor. This gives me a great opportunity to ensure that truly wonderful ideas and presentations are not lost after the words are spoken and the video projector is turned off. I record, edit and post to our YouTube channel, lectures and presentations at Muskoka Watershed Council events.

A highly engaging presentation, this one by Robert Sandford of the University of Saskatchewan, is the 1st lecture from the 2014 Muskoka Summit on the Environment . On June 8th and 9th I recorded the presentations over the two day summit. Broadcast, in part, by CBC Radio’s Ideas with Paul Kennedy, (here’s the 2014 Muskoka Summit CBC broadcast), these were world-class lectures, presented here in Muskoka. I am delighted to be able to ensure these are available to the world.

CBC Ideas: Muskoka Summit on the Environment
CBC Ideas: Muskoka Summit on the Environment

This lecture is now available at the following link on Muskoka Watershed Council’s YouTube channel: Come Hell & High Water:
Scientific Truth and Economic Consequences
In Hollywood Disaster Movies 
 In this entertaining and informative talk, Robert compares Hollywood’s ideas of environmental disasters and their consequences to the realities we all face today.

Sharknado; probably not in Muskoka
Sharknado; probably not in Muskoka.

Among Robert’s key messages: It’s time for courageous and relentless citizenship.

One Atmospheric River can hold the same amount of water as the daily output of the St. Lawrence
One Atmospheric River can hold the same amount of water as the daily output of the St. Lawrence

Copyright © 2014 cottageinmuskoka.ca, All rights reserved.

Muskoka Lakes Association – Ministry of Natural Resources – Muskoka Parry Sound Flood Warning update

The Muskoka Lakes Association just sent the following update which includes a detailed report from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Specific current levels are indicated for the following lakes: Tea Lake, Kawagama Lake, Lake of Bays, Wood Lake, Fox Lake, Mary Lake, Lake Rosseau, Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka, Go Home Lake, Perry Lake, Doe Lake, Bernard Lake, Cecebe Lake, Ahmic Lake, Forest Lake, Dollars Lake, Crane Lake, Otter Lake and Oastler Lake.
Plus the current status of the river flows for the Big East, North Muskoka, South Muskoka, Oxtongue, Black, North Magnetawan, South Magnetawan, Magnetawan, Moon River, Musquash River and the Shawanaga River.

Here’s the message from the MLA and the linked .pdf below it.

mloa

To: steve@cottageinmuskoka.ca:

As promised, the MLA continues to monitor water levels throughout our catchment area.
The attached freshet update, issued yesterday afternoon, details current watershed conditions throughout Muskoka/Parry Sound.
We encourage you to review the attached document, which provides significant detail, and to take action to protect property if your residence is located in one of the affected areas.

Muskoka Lakes Association

2546_MNR_Update_-_Parry_Sound_Muskoka_-_April_25_2014

Muskoka, Parry Sound Flooding Update

The following was issued April 22, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.:

The Ministry of Natural Resources – Parry Sound District is advising area residents that a Flood Warning remains in effect.

Residents within the Parry Sound-Muskoka area are advised that some additional or prolonged flooding will occur within known flood-prone areas of many rivers and lakes. Recent warm air temperatures and rainfall has now accelerated the melting rate of the remaining snow pack with an increased runoff into local waterbodies. High water levels or flooding will occur over the next 24-48 hours within Lake Muskoka and the Moon River as part of the lower Muskoka River sub-watershed.

Residents are advised to keep a close watch on conditions, regularly check for updated messages and exercise caution around rivers and lakes as high water levels and flows continue. There is the potential for higher water levels and flows than what is currently being experienced.Residents may wish to take action to protect property in flood-prone or vulnerable areas. MNR is closely monitoring the weather and developing watershed conditions. Further updates to this Flood Warning will be issued as appropriate.

Description of Weather System
The current weather forecast through to Saturday April 26th is for daytime temperatures in the range of 5-10 degrees Celsius with near freezing nighttime temperatures. Today’s forecast is calling for a range of 3-30mm of rainfall Friday through Saturday.

Description of Current Conditions
A significant amount of the remaining snowpack has melted in recent days due to warm air temperature and rainfall, increasing the runoff into local river systems. A significant amount of snow still remains within local watersheds at higher elevation areas including the western slopes of Algonquin Park; the headwaters of some local river systems. Forecasted temperatures and rainfall will continue to melt the remaining snow pack with continued runoff into local river systems and lakes.
Expiry Date: This message will expire Friday April 25, 2014; 5:00 pm

Terminology: Notification Levels

WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – FLOOD OUTLOOK: gives early notice of the potential for flooding based on weather forecasts calling for heavy rain, snow melt, high winds or other conditions

WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – WATER SAFETY: indicates that high flows, melting ice or other factors could be dangerous for such users as boaters, anglers and swimmers but flooding is not expected.

FLOOD WATCH: potential for flooding exists within specific watercourses and municipalities

** FLOOD WARNING: flooding is imminent or occurring within specific watercourses and municipalities.
Contact Information
For more information please contact: Ministry of Natural Resources Parry Sound District: 705-646-5509 or 705-646-5531

A close watch on local conditions and weather forecasts from Environment Canada is recommended. Environment Canada bulletins can be found at http://weather.gc.ca/

The Surface Water Monitoring Centre public webpage can be found here: www.ontario.ca/flooding

Parry Sound, Muskoka: MNR issues a Flood Warning

In case you missed it, the following was Issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 1:00 p.m.

The Ministry of Natural Resources -Click here to enter text. Parry Sound District is advising residents within flood-prone locations that a Flood Warning is in effect as flooding is imminent. Residents affected by flooding in past years are advised to take immediate action to secure or protect property in advance of river flows and lake levels rising to flood levels.

Those residents that have evacuated their homes in past years due to flooding may wish to make similar preparations at this time as rising water levels will hinder, limit or prevent the ability to evacuate as driveways and roads in lower-lying locations become impassible.

All residents in close proximity to local rivers are advised to keep a close watch on conditions, regularly check for updated messages and exercise caution as river flows and levels rise.

MNR continues to monitor weather conditions and flows and water levels. Further updates to this Flood Warning will be issued as conditions change.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Description of Weather System

The current forecast is calling for 45mm or more precipitation beginning the evening of Saturday April 12th through Monday April 14th. The forecast through to next Monday is for daytime high temperatures up to 16 degrees Celsius with near freezing nighttime temperatures.

Description of Current Conditions

The water content within the existing snow pack throughout local watersheds continues to be greater than the normal or historical average for early April. Forecasted temperatures and rainfall will significantly accelerate the melt of the snow pack Saturday through Monday. It is expected that the melting of the snow pack and rainfall amounts will significantly increase the amount of runoff into local rivers and lakes.

Expiry Date: This message will expire Wednesday April 16, 2014; 12:00 pm

Terminology: Notification Levels

WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – FLOOD OUTLOOK: gives early notice of the potential for flooding based on weather forecasts calling for heavy rain, snow melt, high winds or other conditions

WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – WATER SAFETY: indicates that high flows, melting ice or other factors could be dangerous for such users as boaters, anglers and swimmers but flooding is not expected.

FLOOD WATCH: potential for flooding exists within specific watercourses and municipalities

** FLOOD WARNING: flooding is imminent or occurring within specific watercourses and municipalities.

Contact Information

For more information please contact:

First Nation and Municipalities please contact: 705-646-5531

Other Inquiries please contact:  705-646-5509

A close watch on local conditions and weather forecasts from Environment Canada is recommended. Environment Canada bulletins can be found at http://weather.gc.ca/

The Surface Water Monitoring Centre public webpage can be found here: www.ontario.ca/flood

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.

 

 

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!