MLA completes study of 2013 Muskoka flooding

Earlier this year, the Muskoka Lakes Association commissioned international engineering firm, Baird & Associates, to conduct a review of the 2013 spring flooding in Muskoka. 

The purpose of this study was to better understand the causes of this year’s flooding, while also determining whether it was possible to reduce the likelihood of recurrence in the future.

The MLA and Baird sought information through all means available, including researching historical records, making informal requests to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), and filing a formal freedom of information request.

The following is a summary of the most important findings:

  • Gauge data on Lake Muskoka shows significant drawdown was taken in the 2-3 weeks before the storm event that caused the April flooding. Comparing data from the spring of 2012 to the spring of 2013, it appears the same drawdown efforts were taken in both years.
  • Despite the drawdown, lake levels show a peak stage in spring 2013 that was 0.6 meters greater than the peak stage in spring 2012.
  • The Town of Bracebridge’s 2013 Flood Area Mapping shows flooding was widespread in that community.  Our study’s initial review did not identify any specific structure in the vicinity of the town as the root cause of the flooding.

While a wealth of information was uncovered in our research, an explanation of dam operation ledgers was withheld by the MNR to protect solicitor-client privilege.  Baird was also not permitted to speak directly with MNR staff.  While not helpful to our investigation, these restrictions are commonplace and not unexpected because of the possibility of litigation.

While the withholding of this information prevents in-depth analysis of the cause of the 2013 flood, Baird does make two specific recommendations that the MLA believes could improve Muskoka’s ability to weather similar flooding events in the future:

  • Integrate flood forecasting and flood management: Flood forecasting and flood operation are “beyond the current scope” of the Muskoka River Dam Operation Manual.  The manual itself notes that these issues could be the “subject of a future manual.”   MLA response: The MLA will advocate for the development of an integrated forecasting and flood control operational management manual for the Muskoka Lakes system.
  • Investigate structural changes to control structures: As currently constituted, much of the Muskoka Lakes system operates as “run of river” and is not actively controlled.    MLA response: The MLA will advocate for a review of the Muskoka River Water Management Plan, with specific emphasis on the requirement for structural changes or enhancements to dams and control structures that could enhance upstream storage.

The MLA will further request that the MNR produce a detailed and transparent public report on the factors that led to the 2013 spring flooding.  The MNR has completed an internal review, which was presented to the Standing Advisory Committee of the Muskoka River Water Management Plan.  The MLA believes waterfront property owners – who bore the brunt of repair and reparation costs from the flood – deserve a public and transparent accounting of the facts.

A copy of Baird and Associates’ summary report can be found below

While our study is complete, the MLA will remain focused on this matter.  We will report back to members on the results of our advocacy efforts in the months ahead.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the MLA office at 705-765-5723, or by email at info@mla.on.ca.

Sincerely,

Mike Langdon
President, Muskoka Lakes Association

We have complited a list of helpful tips to help protect your property from flood or high water damage.  It can be found here.