Rapidly dropping water levels raise concern 0
A drop in water levels on most of Haliburton County’s lakes is a perennial concern; as fall approaches, the Trent-Severn Waterway draws down the water, usually leading to beached boats and unhappy lakefront property owners.
But this year is different, stakeholders say, for the way water has drastically dropped much earlier than is normal.
“The only people currently feeling the impacts of the dry weather are those in the reservoir and the flow-through lakes,” says Chris Riddle, co-chairman of the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow and a member on the TSW’s water management advisory council.
According to Riddle, the canal lakes at the lower end of the system are operating with normal, if not excessive, amounts of water, while the reservoir lakes drop several inches a week.
The situation was so frustrating that the CEWF issued an open letter to the central Ontario field unit superintendent of the TSW saying their advisory committee “is of the opinion that the action taken commencing July 16 to effect an accelerated drawdown of the reservoir lakes is premature and unwarranted.”
On Boshkung Lake, Sandor Toth is frustrated by the drawdown, which he calls a safety concern.
“A lot of shoals and rocks are exposed,” he said.
“You have to be a careful boater, but [boaters are] just not used to the drastic drawdowns.”
Toth has lived on Boshkung, a reservoir lake, for three years and before that Halls and Maple lakes.
He said he has come to expect fluctuating levels, but the last two years have been “drastic and erratic.”
To measure just how quickly water dropped, Toth planted a pole in the water outside his home and marked the change over the summer.
Between May and the end of July, the water dropped 26 inches, according to his gauge, six of those inches happened in one week.
Residents were having trouble getting their boats off lifts and several had their water intake lines accidentally ripped out.
Toth contacted political representatives, but found them to be powerless in getting change with the TSW.
“The No. 1 thing [for the TSW] is they’re focused too much on supplying the Trent canals with water,” he said.
The system needs to take into account the needs of the property owners around the reservoir lakes as much as those in the lower end of the system, he said.
He advocated the reeves of the county’s four municipalities get together to put out a cohesive, powerful message.
“One voice of several people getting together … is going to be far more effective than just one reeve speaking out. That’s where the coalition has been excellent, they’ve been a voice for us,” he said.
Canal operations director Roger Stanley sees the problem differently.
Over the 28 years he has been working on the TSW, Stanley has seen major fluctuations – floods and droughts alike.
He sympathizes with Toth and Riddle, but said there is more to the waterway’s operations than just moving boats through locks.
“We never drew more water than was required to only maintain the minimum approved flows of the Trent Severn Waterway,” he said.
And when he speaks of the waterway, he doesn’t just mean navigation.
“We know from past experience once you get down below the minimums … you start running into drinking water quality issues,” he said, noting that thousands of people get their water from the TSW.
The volumes of water necessary also contribute to how quickly water must be drained from the top of the system to the bottom.
By the time one pail of water from Kennisis Lake makes its way to the canal lakes, half is lost, Stanley said.
Water flow is needed to maintain spawning beds; if water is held back in the reservoir lakes, the beds downstream can dry up.
Slow water also means public beaches have to close – one thing Stanley is willing to accept.
“We’ll risk beaches, but we won’t risk drinking water,” he said.
Following the CEWF letter, a meeting was called by the TSW’s water management advisory council, where Stanley explained to the group the challenges he and his staff faced during one of the more dry summers in recent memory.
Riddle was one of the members at the meeting and said it clarified some points, while leaving some issues unresolved.
“The way they operate is they have not even considered using the discretion we think they have to limit levels in the actual canal portion,” he said.
Meanwhile, the coalition is asking that even lower levels be considered.
Riddle said his group continues to be frustrated that the TSW won’t develop better policies to “share the pain” of the drawdown more evenly from the north to the south end of the system.
He also pointed to studies done on better managing the system, which he has seen in his time with the management council, that have yet to be released to the public.
Parks Canada cuts are also a concern for the coalition, Riddle said, with recent announcements of lessening of staff and hours.
“We are concerned that the way the cuts are being handled is clearly going to have an impact on water management,” he said.
It is still unknown whether staff in Haliburton will be cut, though the union representing TSW workers anticipates there will be layoffs.
Stanley would not comment on how the reduced hours and staff would affect the county’s reservoir lakes.
The manager said he was well aware of how painful it can be when a reservoir or flow-through lake drops suddenly (he lives on one in the Kawarthas), but said the TSW is a 100-year-old system that doesn’t offer many alternatives.
“What we’re being asked for is surgical water management and we have caveman tools,” he said.
With the recent wet weather, the drastic drawdown has slowed and all along the system are praying for more rain into the fall.