Thinking Like A Watershed

By Rob Attfield.

Imagine for a moment that you are no longer in human form but have been transformed into the vibrant and expansive Muskoka Watershed. This is your new body. Instead of a torso with arms, legs and head, you have morphed into an area of about four thousand, six hundred and sixty square kilometres, comprised of lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests, agriculture and developed areas. All of the excess water in your new body is “shed” (watershed) – about a million Olympic size swimming pools of it – annually through the Muskoka and Musquash Rivers and their tributaries.

Your natural “bladder” is your new body’s ability to absorb, utilize and eliminate water appropriately, primarily through storage in floodplains, rivers and lakes and into your largely shallow soils. Transpiration/evaporation (perspiration) from trees and other vegetation also assists. To complement your natural bladder, a series of dams and locks store and regulate some, but not all of your liquid flow.

Your natural regulatory systems work in harmony until an increasing influx of pesky humans begins to disrupt your body’s equilibrium.

These annoying human creatures start to reduce your ability to “perspire” by covering your “skin” or ground cover, with impermeable surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Adding insult to injury, they perform “plastic surgery” on your wetlands, covering many of them to establish “desirable” uses like houses and shopping malls. Their encroachment all over your body also fragments the movement capabilities of the other life forms essential to your overall health. Too make matters worse, these humans interfere with the chemical balance of your organs by dumping thousands of tonnes of salt into your body every year. No wonder you are not feeling well.

The final straw for you is the prolonged “hot flashes” you begin to experience as the very atmosphere around you warms. You become very thirsty in the summer but there is not enough water to quench this thirst. In the colder weather of winter and spring, when you don’t need an excess of liquid nourishment, you are deluged with it. Your bladder and some of your “blood vessels” cannot hold all that water and burst, spewing H2O into areas of your anatomy not designed to accommodate it. What a mess. You need help!

Enter the general practitioner (the Ontario Provincial Government) with five million dollars to explore ways to repair your bladder through regulation of your arteries. Their Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group (MWAG) is the medical team assigned to this task.

Meanwhile, another local medical team, the Muskoka Watershed Council, suggests a comprehensive approach to the problem, “Integrated Watershed Management”, a strategy serendipitously crafted around the time of MWAG’s arrival.

“We need to look at your entire body holistically,” they argue. “not just your circulatory system. What good comes from trying to control just your blood vessels and bladder when your overall health is impacted by so many different variables, like your loss of permeable skin cover, for example. We really need a collaborative team approach to address your problems…land use planners, hydrological experts, environmental scientists, local and regional governments…in other words, all the stakeholders who have an interest in your well-being.

Will the Muskoka Watershed Council be able to convince the public, local and District councils and the Ontario Government of the value of this approach?

Stay tuned for the next episode of “Thinking Like A Watershed”.

Rob Attfield is a member of the Muskoka Watershed Council