Update on Bala Falls and Water Levels in Muskoka


Two newsworthy events occurred recently that the MLA feels will be of significant interest to our members. Consequently, we are sending this lengthy E-blast to ensure you are fully informed. Firstly, it has been determined that the District has more power than previously thought to influence, or even halt, the power plant proposed by Swift River Energy Ltd. in Bala. Read below how TML council committee has reacted to this discovery. Secondly, water levels in Muskoka are lower than usual. We contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry for an explanation which we have summarized below.

The MLA Congratulates TML Council on its New Initiative re: Bala Falls

We wish to inform you of an important new development in the issue surrounding the controversial power plant being proposed at the Bala Falls in the Township of Muskoka Lakes (TML).

At a recent TML council meeting, it was determined that the District of Muskoka owns not just the highway bridge over the North Falls, but also the land and lakebed beneath it. As construction of the power plant requires use of these lands, this discovery suggests that the District has more power than previously thought to influence, or even halt, the power plant proposed by Swift River Energy Ltd.

On September 22nd, TML council committee passed a resolution requesting that the District of Muskoka reject any offer from Swift River for use of these lands. The resolution passed on a vote of 7 to 2.

This game-changing resolution will be considered at the October 16th meeting of council. As a committee recommendation, it needs to be ratified at a council meeting.

Why is this resolution so significant? Until now, most observers believed the future of the power plant rested entirely with the provincial government. In fact, on March 13th, 2015, TML Council passed a resolution confirming that the Township is “an unwilling host” to the proposed hydro project. Even those councillors who have been working with Swift River to move the project forward have said multiple times that they are not in favour of the project, and if they could stop it, they would.

The MLA applauds this resolution. Earlier this year we reaffirmed our opposition to the hydro project, based on concerns over the size and location of the project, and its potential impacts on the environment, heritage and public safety. Given the widespread concerns about the hydro plant, the MLA welcomes the prospect of increased local control over the outcome of this project.

The MLA congratulates TML on this new initiative. We hope this resolution will be supported by all councillors on October 16th. After all, who would oppose the concept of gaining more influence over a controversial local development, if given the opportunity to do so?

We urge the District of Muskoka to take the same perspective when this issue comes to District Council. We believe this new initiative by TML Council reflects its stated vision: “To respect, maintain and enhance our Muskoka”.

Water Levels in Muskoka

The MLA Water Watch, updated regularly, can be found on our website here.

Current water levels in Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph have been observed as being lower than usual for this time of year. Some cottagers are experiencing navigational challenges and we have received reports of boat transoms hitting bottom while docked.  Accordingly, the MLA has contacted the appropriate parties at the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) who are responsible for the Muskoka River Water Management Plan (MRWMP). They advise that water levels are at the low end of the normal range in accordance with the annual operating plan.

According to the MNRF, the operating range on Lake Muskoka for this time of year begins to trend downward as part of the annual fall draw down. The draw down is required to prepare for the traditionally wetter conditions in October, November and December. In addition, fall draw down is scheduled to provide optimum conditions for lake trout spawning and egg survival. Lake of Bays, Rosseau/Joseph, Huntsville, Mary, Tasso, Camp and Kawagama have similar draw down schedules.

Unlike the last two autumns, we have received much dryer weather this year. For the month of September the MNRF Bracebridge office recorded 53.4 mm of rain as compared to 123.8 mm received in September 2014. This continued dry weather has resulted in the MNRF being slightly ahead of their draw down target for this time of year on Lake Muskoka. In response the MNRF are operating the South Bala dam to decrease flows from Lake Muskoka. Levels on Lakes Rosseau and Joseph have stabilized.

The Lake Muskoka Water Level Chart for 2015 including the data for the previous two years, can be seen below. Water levels on Lake Muskoka are expected to remain close to what they currently are through to the middle of October. Water levels generally begin to rise on their own through November due to higher precipitation. You can see from the 2013 and 2014 observations that water levels in previous years began to build through October which was the result of wet weather.

A larger winter drawdown will begin in early December and last through to late March in preparation for the spring freshet (which typically occurs in early April). The MLA has established a sub-committee of the Environment & Water Quality committee, chaired by Chris Cragg, a Civil Engineer, will continue to monitor water levels throughout the fall, and again through the spring freshet. We have also submitted a formal request through multiple channels and levels of government to be engaged in the MRWMP update. See our letter of request and the response from the Minister of Natural Resources & Forestry below.

If you have any questions about either of these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@mla.on.ca or 705-765-5723.