The proposed project would make all this too dangerous to continue …

Apr 102016
 

Summary
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR) has the responsibility to lower the water level of Lake Muskoka in advance of the spring freshet. This year the MNR lowered the water level of Lake Muskoka by even less than they did in advance of the major flooding of Lake Muskoka in 2013, and so the MNR contributed to the spring 2016 flooding and damage caused to private property on Lake Muskoka.

Sadly, and alarmingly, this water level managment is done by the same group within the MNR who came up with the unworkable plan to avoid flooding Lake Muskoka during the proposed construction of a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls. And this same MNR group is now attempting to claim they would have no responsibility for public safety for the proposed generating station they’re eager to approve even though it would be impossible to operate safely at that location.
 

Detail
The Muskoka River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) specifies that during the spring the water level of Lake Muskoka should be between 224.6 and 225.75 metres above sea level (this is a range of about 14″). This is shown by the two horizontal blue lines in the graph below (click on it for a larger view).

As the snow melts and runs into the upstream rivers and lakes, the water level of Lake Muskoka rises according to factors such as; the amount of snow, the rate at which it melts due to higher temperatures and rain, and whether the ground is still frozen or can absorb and slow the flow.

The MNR has the responsibility to lower the water level of Lake Muskoka throughout the winter (this is called the winter draw-down) in anticipation of these higher spring freshet flows. This work includes coordinating with others, such as Ontario Power Generation who own and operate the Moon Dam which is critical for handling high flows from Lake Muskoka. The lower red line in the graph below shows the MNR’s actual maximum winter draw-down for Lake Muskoka each year from 2003 through 2016. The green line above that shows the subsequent highest water level of Lake Muskoka each spring.

As shown in the graph below, Lake Muskoka has flooded three times in recent years:

  1. In 2008 the water level reached 7.2″ above the maximum level, which was somewhat the MNR’s fault as they could have drawn-down Lake Muskoka water by 2.8″ more in advance.
     
  2. In 2013 Lake Muskoka reached 15.8″ higher than the maximum level. As shown, in advance of this, the MNR could and should have reduced the level of Lake Muskoka by 12.6″ more than they did, and this would have reduced the flooding. The MNR later determed 2013 was the worst flooding of Lake Muskoka in 100 years (see our 2013 articles here and here). One would expect the MNR would now know to fully draw-down Lake Muskoka in advance of spring.
     
  3. In 2016, Lake Muskoka reached 11.3″ higher than the maximum level, but the MNR’s winter draw-down was completely inadequate, as it could have been drawn-down in advance by 16.3″ more than they did.
     

The MNR not doing what they can to better reduce flooding could be due to:

  1. Through retirements and poor staff training and capability, they do not have the competence to handle this responsibility.
  2. Water level control decisions in Muskoka are too heavily influenced by hydro-electric power generating companies. For example, the MRWMP Steering Advisory Committee (SAC) has many members from companies that operate hydro-electric generating stations, and the higher the water, the more power generated, and the more profits they make. So there is a financial incentive both for the water levels in Muskoka to be higher than prudent, and for the MRWMP to permit this.

    As the construction of the proposed Bala generating station would result in the Lake Muskoka water level being controlled by a for-profit company, even though they would need to conform to the MRWMP, as is shown in the graph above they would still have the discretion to not lower water levels as much as they should to reduce flooding.

    • That is, the proponent would receive a financial incentive to cause flooding of Lake Muskoka and this would conform to the MRWMP.
       

Conclusions

  1. The spring 2016 flooding of Lake Muskoka is further proof that the MNR either does not care or does not have the staff training and competence to create a plan that would require the proponent to not allow flooding Lake Muskoka during the construction of the proposed generating station. More worrisome is that the MNR doesn’t understand and accept their public safety obligations and would allow the construction of a generating station which would be impossible to operate safely in that location.
     
  2. In the short term, the MNR needs to more openly discuss why they did not more fully draw-down Lake Muskoka in 2013 and 2016.
     
  3. In the longer term, the MNR needs to modify the MRWMP to so that Lake Muskoka is fully drawn-down by March 1 each year. Other changes may also be required, such as Ontario Power Generation agreeing to open their Moon Dam sooner.
     
  4. But the main change is that there needs to be more public involvement in the execution of, and future planning for the MRWMP.

  5 Responses to “Flooding Lake Muskoka: the MNR really messed-up again this year”

  1. Liberals green energy act seeks to maximize water levels for hydor electric. They flood muskoka to this end, also knowing few cottagers vote liberal. Its vindicative and feeds the illogical platform of the 2009 green energy act visa a vis OPG. Its the soicialist way!

  2. I understand the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) has formed a Water Level Management Task Force & I have sent them the following message on April 12th: “Please consider initiating a CLASS ACTION LAW SUITE against the MNR. The MNR has allowed, encouraged & profited by issuing leases & selling rights to construct or keep existing structures over lake bed on the assumption that water levels would be managed prudently. It is now clear that the MNR is negligent & has grossly mismanaged their mandate to manage water levels in the District of Muskoka. The MNR must now be held accountable for their gross negligence and be forced to compensate all property owners affected by their mismanagement. The MLA should also press for a return to local management (i.e. The District of Muskoka) of Muskoka’s watershed since the MNR has proven incapable of prudent management of this valuable resource.” I have requested a response from the MLA & will forward such response when received. Perhaps Save The Bala Falls committee should consider seeking MLA’s further efforts in seeking compensation from MNR.

    • I would support a class action suit against MNR as they are totally incompetent and all the senior workers have retired due to cost/pay and they are using kids to control the flow. My docks are underwater again after I had to rebuild them in 2013. What happened to the class action suit in 2013??? or was it settled quietly with no press??? Thanks john cassan

      • Hello John,
        I understand that while more than 150 people contacted the lawyer who began organizing the 2013 Class Action law suit, nobody volunteered to be the “representative plaintiff” so the legal action did not proceed. Another challenge would be funding such an action, especially if the plaintiffs would need to also pay the MNR’s legal costs if the plaintiffs’ legal action was not successful.

  3. I fully agree. Have you heard of any class action lawsuits being developed?

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