WATER LEVELS FOR KAWAGAMA AND BEAR LAKES
I Historical Background
Lakeside cottagers would like to think that their surroundings are essentially natural. When it comes to lake levels for the Muskoka and Trent-Severn watersheds, man has exerted complete control of the water, in many cases since the late 1800's. Lakes were dammed initially to facilitate the passage of logs downstream to sawmills. Hydroelectric power generation has also been present in some locations for over 100 years, and continues to be a major influence in the region today.
In 1940 an agreement was reached which detailed the rules under which water levels would be controlled (The Hackner-Holden Agreement). A distinction was made between Navigable and Non-Navigable lakes. Navigable lakes were to be maintained at almost constant water levels whereas the remainder would be allowed to have significant fluctuation based almost entirely on the needs of the power industry.
In 1969, an Amendment was added, which changed the focus somewhat. Recreational users, fisheries and flood control issues were added. In addition, ownership and control of many dams were transferred to the MNR (currently the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry). There are 42 water control structures in the Muskoka Watershed. Twenty nine are controlled by the MNR. While some dams are fixed, the active dams require on-site management.
For Kawagama Lake, the stone and lumber dam built in 1890 was replaced by a stone and rubble dam in 1926 and the water level raised by approximately 4 meters! Ontario Hydro owned and operated the dam until 1968. A major concrete upgrade was carried out in 1985. Throughout all of this time, however, the targeted annual water level fluctuation remained at slightly over 1.5m or 5 feet. Time for a change.
II Recent History – The Muskoka River Water Management Plan
In 2002 the provincial government, in collaboration with the power generating industry, realizing that water management in the Muskoka Watershed was based on an agreement signed in 1940 and amended in 1969, recognized that it was clearly time for a change. A task force was established and charged with developing a new water management strategy, while taking into account the priorities of fisheries, wetlands, agriculture, navigation and boating, tourism, culture and heritage, etc., etc. Public consultation was encouraged and a Public Advisory Committee established, along with the recognition of a number of groups as Watershed Stakeholders, the KLCA being one of them. The whole process proved to be lengthy and at times somewhat difficult. Four years later, an agreement was signed between the MNR and the various power generation industries and a report of approximately 500 pages published. The Plan came into effect in the spring of 2006 and expires in 2016.
Reaching a consensus of Kawagama and Bear Lake residents proved to be a challenge. On any given day, some residents might complain of low water while others might be concerned regarding high water.
The main thrust of the KLCA submission was to see the following items addressed:
- The significant annual fluctuation in water levels which was felt to be excessive and should be modified;
- The high targeted spring water levels which has led to significant shoreline erosion at the east end of Kawagama Lake;
- The September 1st start to the fall drawdown should be delayed until Sept. 15th as was the case with all of the other larger lakes in the system;
- The extent of the fall drawdown made it difficult for water access residents to access their properties;
- The extent of the winter drawdown was possibly having a negative effect on the lake trout fishery.
Clearly not all of our concerns have been addressed to our satisfaction, although they were acknowledged. At times the discussions were lengthy and heated. The passage of time since 2006 has given all parties a better perspective and hopefully will be of some benefit when faced with the next round of negotiations.
In 2003-2004, the MNR monitored lake trout spawning activity in Kawagama Lake in order to assist with the development of the Plan. The final version of the Plan identified Kawagama Lake as the 'test' lake to evaluate the success of water management changes. As of 2014, a significant increase in the lake trout population has not been observed.
III How Can You Track Current Water Levels?
The MNR&F is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Kawagama Lake Dam. Since there are no upstream operational dams in the Kawagama watershed, control of the outflow is the only tool that the Ministry has in attempting to comply with the norms set out in the Kawagama Lake Operation Plan, formally known as the Rule Curve
If a person wishes to establish whether the current water level is at, above, or below the Target level for that particular day, how do you do that? Note -- the BMP levels for the summer are not official but every effort is made to try and achieve these levels, weather permitting. A little effort is required to establish the current water level for any given day, as the MNR&F does not publish these data. This information can be found on the Canadian Government web site WATEROFFICE http://wateroffice.ec.gc.ca
. The Station Number for the Kawagama Lake at Russell Landing page is 02EB017.
The first thing that you will notice is that the scale is completely different from the MNR&F scale which is in meters above sea level. The second is that the data covers only a few days and to get a better perspective it is necessary to Modify Settings and change the Date Parameters. Record the number for the day in question. Use the conversion factor 346.085 and add this to the WATEROFFICE number; e.g., for July 1st, the WATEROFFICE number is 9.5. 346.085+9.5= 355.585 or 355.6, which is the Target level for this date.
If you prefer to compare numbers, the key numbers for Kawagama Lake are
March 15 – 354.6m
May 1st - 355.6m
July 1st - 355.6m
Sept 15th - 355.3m
Oct. 15 - 354.8m