What is the Muskoka Watershed Council?

By Peter Sale, MWC Chair.

Muskoka Watershed Council

The otter on the Muskoka Watershed Council logo has been cavorting across Muskoka for over 20 years, yet people remain confused. MWC is not part of the government, not responsible for flood control, not Friends of the Muskoka Watershed nor any other organization. But our curious, helpful otter works well with others to improve quality of our environment.

Legally, Muskoka Watershed Council is a volunteer-driven not-for-profit incorporated in Ontario, with a Board of Directors, a Chair, and up to 40 Members elected for renewable 2-year terms to volunteer their varied skills and experience to champion watershed health. Eight members are municipal councillors appointed to MWC by their municipalities. Members come from across our region and share a passion to care for our iconic environment.

Championing watershed health? For MWC, it means:

  1. advocating for sustainable management of our environment,
  2. educating and advising the community and the municipalities on environmental issues,
  3. running projects to engage the public in environmental stewardship, and
  4. monitoring and reporting on the health of our environment.  

Our Muskoka Watershed Report Cards typify the monitoring/reporting role. The first Report Card appeared in 2004. The sixth will be released this summer. Each Report Card includes a four-page summary backed by a detailed background report and other resources. It reports on a region stretching from Algonquin Park to Georgian Bay, and shows us how well we are doing in caring for this place.

Love Your Lake, The Natural Edge, and the Algae Monitoring Program are hands-on projects that we do in collaboration with lake associations. While Love Your Lake and The Natural Edge have been running for years, the Algae Monitoring Program began as a pilot project to develop and test techniques in 2019. Partnering with lake associations, it monitors algal abundance through the summer and fall seasons to build a picture of what the algae are doing when they are not blooming. Twelve lakes participated in 2022 and some additional lakes will be added in 2023. Interested? Get in touch at [email protected].

Our media reports, social media posts, and an extensive series of science-based position papers on our website form one part of the educational effort. Public talks, attendance at annual events, Stewardship Conferences and Muskoka Summits are other examples. MWC also seeks to advise and inform municipal councils on emergent environmental issues through our position papers, written comment on every draft Official Plan or similar municipal policy document being developed, and responses to questions where possible. One thing MWC does not do is comment on any site-specific development issue before a municipal council. This firm policy confuses some people, but it has ensured that MWC remains above the fray, focused on the principles and policies for environmental management.

Integrated Watershed Management, or IWM, is a major current project and a good example of MWC’s advocacy. With growing threats like climate change and knowing that our own impacts will grow with our population, MWC realized in 2020 that current forms of conservation and land-use planning were inadequate to prevent long-term degradation of our magnificent environment. A White Paper was produced articulating the need to implement a more sophisticated, more integrated form of management in this region. Bringing IWM to Muskoka will be a decade-long project, but MWC is working closely with others to bring this idea to life, for the betterment of our lives into the future.

If you think there might be a place for you on the Muskoka Watershed Council, get in touch via email at [email protected].