Whose water is it? 0
THE TRENT-SEVERN Waterway is an easy villain.
Run from far away offices by people we are unlikely to ever meet, the TSW is often portrayed as the system that does everything wrong on behalf of the rich, privileged recreational boaters to the south.
With watercraft beached in fall, riverbanks flooding in spring and previously submerged rocks and stumps now jutting out of the water, the system can appear dysfunctional at best.
But look a little closer and a more complex problem comes into focus – one harder to solve and not so black and white.
This summer has been hard on our water levels; evaporation and lack of rainfall has limited the water the TSW can draw from the reservoir lakes.
Most of Haliburton County serves as the basin for the canals and locks to the south.
When our water is down, it puts strain on the entire system, as it relies on the reservoirs to serve all along the waterway.
To combat the problem, the TSW decided to drawdown, or take more water, more rapidly than usual.
Here’s where the pain comes in.
Lakefront property owners watched in horror as water levels dove as many as six inches in a week.
Communication about the drawdown was late or non-existent and many ended up with exposed water lines, stranded boats and a fear for the safety of boaters caught unawares of the lurking shoals and rocks much closer to the surface than is normal for July.
Their frustration is well founded and legitimate.
But there is another side to the story.
This system is 100 years old. It needs repair. It was never designed to deal with heavily populated lakes in need of stable water levels.
It also serves more than boaters to the south and cottagers to the north.
In the spaces in between, the TSW also provides drinking water to thousands.
Its flow must be high enough and the water speed quick enough to avoid stagnation.
The water flows over fish spawning beds and replenishes some of Ontario’s largest wetlands.
We are not alone in the system; we are interconnected with many communities and ecosystems.
Does this mean we abandon efforts to “share the pain” along the TSW, as the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow asks? Absolutely not.
In fact, lobbying, petitioning and public campaigns are worth the effort and do make real change.
But we need to consider that we’re one part of a bigger, if flawed, system that has existed for a century and will likely exist for another.
Painting this struggle as us-versus-them isn’t constructive or accurate.
It’s all of us together connected by the water.