THE MUSKOKAN - Keeping Muskoka’s lakes beautiful requires a combination of hard work, commonsense and cutting-edge science.
A lake’s beauty is ultimately dependent on its health and one crucial tool for keeping the lakes healthy is the recreational water quality model. This numerical model is used by the district to predict and estimate water quality across the watershed. To ensure the model is using the most up-to-date science, the district revises the model every 10 years.
The revision normally takes about three years to complete; however, following a Muskoka Lakes Association request to accelerate the model’s revision, the district now plans to have the new model completed by the end of the year. That’s one year ahead of schedule.
Judi Brouse, director of watershed programs for the District Municipality of Muskoka, said revising the model is important to staying on top of any changes that may be occurring in the region’s waters.
“As our climate changes, we have to make sure that number is right,” Brouse said. “We have to go back and look at every variable, like making sure our development numbers are right. In 10 years, science improves, so some of those equations may change slightly to get a better fit on predicting what’s in the water.”
The key role the model fills is identifying the human sources of phosphorus that enter the lakes and rivers. When too much phosphorus enters a lake it becomes green.
A green lake means lots of algae and algae means an unpleasant recreational experience for the many people who make use of the region’s waterways.
“People don’t like swimming in algae — it’s as simple as that,” said Brouse. “We get calls all summer about algae blooms and how to look after the lake and make sure they don’t have algae blooms. Some algae has odour and some algae has taste, so if you’re drinking it or swimming around it, it’s not pleasant.”
Septic systems are the biggest source of human phosphorus entering the water. Systems that are poorly maintained or too close to the shore will drop a significant amount of phosphorus into a waterway.
Mike Logan, chair of the water quality committee at the MLA, said accelerating the model’s review is a very positive step for everyone who loves Muskoka’s waterways.
“It’s really a good approach to managing our environment,” Logan said. It’s a very objective and scientific approach, and it’s very positive that the district is staying out in front of any changes that are seen in our watershed or lakes system.”
Changes in the area, such as weather patterns, necessitate a regular updating to the model. For example, changes in rainfall and continued development in the region have meant shifts in what’s flowing into the waterways.
Logan said that many regulations are built on the results of the model.
“Planning regulations will be more accurate and do a better job of protecting the water quality in our lakes and in the environment as a whole,” said Logan. “It’s kind of abstract, but it’s important in the long run.”