Peter Sale, Chair of the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC), warns “Muskoka’s watersheds stand at a crucial turning point.”
The Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre in Gravenhurst hosted many dignitaries as the MWC presented its sixth report card Monday morning.
“While currently healthy, they are gradually degrading in several ways, and our existing management systems seem incapable of halting or reversing this negative trend,” he continued. “We need an integrated, watershed-scale management system capable of dealing with the multiple stresses our iconic environment now faces.”
The MWC report card, which they have been releasing every few years since 2004, serves as an assessment of how healthy (or not) Muskoka’s watersheds are.
In the 2023 report card, MWC identifies a handful of concerning trends with the watershed’s health:
- Climate change is having an impact locally, notably on biodiversity, the economy, and our day-to-day lives.
- Over the past two decades, winter ice coverage has fallen by 20 days, which impacts winter recreation, tourism, the construction industry, and how our lakes function.
- There have been twice as many severe storms (like spring flooding) since 2000 compared to the previous 30 years. That is caused by high snowpack, snow melting quickly, and heavy rain during the spring thaw.
- About 70 percent of lakes in our area exceed their natural salt levels with 24 percent having chloride levels that threaten aquatic life.
- Soil and lake calcium levels are going down because of acid rain, changing land use, and climate change. The decline affects critically important aquatic life like Daphnia and other zooplankton who rely on calcium for skeleton formation.
- Harmful algae blooms are becoming more common, which impact the beauty and economy of the area and come with health risks.
Kevin Trimble, a director with the MWC, said a collaborative integrated watershed management approach needs to be taken. “This approach is crucial to enhancing watershed health, promoting sustainable economies, fortifying community well-being, and building resilience against climate change and other stressors,” he highlighted. “Collaborative efforts among individuals, businesses, and governments are essential to effectively address the intricate challenges impacting the watershed and strive for a sustainable future. The time is now for everyone to stand up and take action to safeguard the health of the Muskoka watershed.”
“The ways we are taking care of it were fine for the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s,” added Sale. “It’s not that time anymore. The world is changing.”
District Chair Jeff Lehman spoke about the importance of taking a collaborative approach to protecting the area’s watershed. “All of you care so much about this watershed and its future,” he said.
With that in mind, Lehman said maintaining our watershed begins at the community level with organizations like the MWC, Friends of the Muskoka Watershed, and the District of Muskoka.
On that note, Sale said the MWC plans to hold conferences and release more information over the next year, including hosting meetings with the District of Muskoka and municipal councils. “If we’re going to manage it, we have to understand it,” he said.