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Submission to the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group

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18 February 2020

 

To:   Ms. Mardi Witzel, Chair

Members of the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group

 

Submitted by email to muskokawatershed.ag@gmail.com

 

 

Dear Ms. Witzel and members

 

RE: Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative

 

MWC is encouraged to see the Province advance actions to address the increasing number of flood events, including the formation of the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group. Muskoka Watershed Council has a long-standing interest in the health of Muskoka’s watershed and we appreciate the opportunity to provide input into the Province’s “Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative” through the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group.

 

Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC) is a volunteer-based non-profit organization founded in 2001 by the District of Muskoka and a local non-profit to champion watershed health. MWC is comprised of representatives from a wide range of stakeholders, including municipal, provincial and federal governments; lake associations; academia; and other community interests from across our watershed. In Muskoka, where there is no conservation authority, MWC provides a coordinated and science-based voice on issues affecting the environmental quality of our watershed and its role as the basis of Muskoka’s economy. For almost twenty years, MWC has provided scientifically-informed advice on environmental issues to municipal governments, the private sector, and the citizens of the Muskoka Watershed. As we have previously expressed to Minister Yakabuski, MWC remains committed to supporting the Province in its efforts to protect watershed health, including through its “Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative”. MWC is particularly pleased that several of our long-standing members serve as appointees to the provincial initiative.

 

MWC is of the opinion that the primary issues and needs facing the Muskoka watershed are:

  • Integrated Watershed Planning: Management actions taken on single issues (e.g., flood mitigation) without consideration of broader implications is strongly discouraged and MWC promotes Integrated Watershed Management (please see specific recommendations in our report, attached).
  • The Integrity of Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Infrastructure: Recent events have suggested that the long term viability of MECP’s Dorset Environmental Science Centre is threatened. MWC believes that it is important to maintain Muskoka’s unique history of continuous water quality monitoring programs.
  • Land Development: MWC is concerned about the current management of ongoing land use approval practices. We believe it is important to use an integrated watershed based approach to synchronize all economic activity in Muskoka with long range environmental sustainability goals to ensure that Muskoka remains the world class destination that it is.

 

Integrated Watershed Management in Muskoka paperIt is MWC’s perspective that an integrated watershed approach must be implemented to effectively manage Muskoka’s watershed and also to meet the commitment made in the Province’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan to “identify where and how climate change is likely to impact Ontario’s communities”. As MWC has publicly noted in the past, revising the Province’s Muskoka River Water Management Plan alone will not assist in mitigating the causes of flooding and identifying innovative, comprehensive watershed management options. More specifically, a watershed hydrology initiative, in the context of a comprehensive watershed strategy, will provide broad insight and potential solutions for greater flood resiliency. The process for developing such a strategy is included in the white paper The Case for Integrated Watershed Management in Muskoka, which was ratified by MWC on January 31, 2020 and is submitted for your review and consideration as MWC’s formal input to the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group.

 

The Muskoka River Water Management Plan is restricted in scope and responds primarily to river flows, snow pack and lake levels, while a broader watershed strategy should include assessing our built and natural infrastructure (including but not limited to wetlands, headwater tributaries, and forest resources) to fully understand and, in turn, to effectively manage the impacts of flooding and to identify necessary actions to ensure the ecological and economic health of Muskoka, and beyond, for years to come. Our review of available science and our own 2016 evidence-based report “Planning for Climate Change in Muskoka” makes clear that effective planning and management of watershed resources will be necessary to adapt to increasingly erratic weather patterns.

 

As development continues to increase in Muskoka in the coming years, it will be vital that land-use planning at all levels take full account of natural capital if we wish to sustain our environment, our quality of life, and our vibrant tourist and recreational economy. It has long been recognized that Muskoka’s rich natural environment is a major driver of its economy, providing opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation and tourism throughout the year. Action to retain that is the obvious correct way forward. The challenge over the next several decades will be to provide for needed development and enable population growth, while retaining this amazing natural environment and the quality of life we all enjoy. It’s a stiff challenge because of our changing climate. MWC is interested in seeing IWM become a core part of planning and management in Muskoka and is prepared to facilitate a workshop to iron out the details of IWM goals, priorities, and organizational structure for the region.

 

While MWC is promoting the implementation of Integrated Watershed Management in Muskoka, we continue to work on a number of other initiatives related to watershed health, including developing a citizen science monitoring program for algae. A pilot was undertaken in 2019 on four lakes with volunteers provided by the respective lake associations. The pilot was successful and will continue in 2020, with program expansion planned for 2021. This is an ambitious, but valuable, program that will require funds to make it successful. The lack of data on algae and algae blooms, together with the inclusion of cyanobacterial blooms as an indicator of water quality in the new Muskoka Official Plan, are some of the reasons that MWC developed the Algae Monitoring Program, which would not be possible without the guidance provided by the scientists at the Dorset Environmental Science Centre.

 

MWC would like to see this and other citizen science programs, including the Lake Partner Program and Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network, both operated out of the Dorset Environmental Science Centre, continue to be supported so that environmental data can be collected across the province. The volunteers involved in citizen science programs, including many in Muskoka, provide valuable data while increasing their personal understanding of the natural environment. Long-term management of these programs is necessary to ensure quality data is collected, analyzed and communicated to provide an indication of Ontario’s environmental health and guide remedial measures where necessary.

 

MWC also encourages good watershed stewardship practices through programs like the Love Your Lake shoreline assessment and stewardship program, The Natural Edge shoreline re-naturalization program, and the Muskoka Watershed Report Card, which assembles data on Muskoka’s environment from a variety of sources, analyzes it, and reports the results to the public through simple-to-understand graphics and online story maps. The Report Card is a useful tool to assess the health of Muskoka’s watershed and identify gaps where more data is needed.

 

Should you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me. I do hope you will attend a Muskoka Watershed Council meeting later in 2020, if possible. I look forward to meeting with you and assisting your efforts in whatever way would be most helpful.

 

Sincerely,

Geoff Ross, Chair

 

 

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