THE MUSKOKAN — The lakes of Muskoka have changed.
Michelle Palmer, centre, stands with her PhD adviser Norman Yan and Muskoka Watershed Council Chair Patricia Arney following her lecture on the changes that have taken place in southern Ontario’s lakes.
Photo by Roland Cilliers
It’s not entirely clear what it all means just yet, but humans have definitely had an effect on the chemistry of Muskokan lakes. In a lecture titled Our Lakes: How Have They Changed Over the Last 25 Years Michelle Palmer spoke on what’s different about Ontario’s lakes.
Palmer, a recent PhD recipient from York University, said her investigation showed that significant and varied changes have occurred on many lakes since the mid-1980s.
“The things we do, our actions as humans have the ability to impact our lakes and our lakes are changing,” said Palmer. “There’s a need to start understanding how our actions are actually impacting the lakes to ensure that our actions aren’t actually harming the lakes.”
The study included roughly 40 lakes across southern Ontario, and aimed to determine the effect of things like acid rain, climate change and lakeshore development. What she found may surprise people.
On average, the lakes are warmer, saltier, have less phosphates, less calcium and there are more invasive species. The cause of some of the changes is believed to be human in nature.
For example, the increase in lake saltiness is believed to be the result of de-icing efforts on the 370 kilometres of salted roads in Muskoka. Much of that salt ends up being washed into the lakes.
The effects of these changes have not yet been devastating to living organisms in the lake; however, Palmer emphasized that it was important to stay on top of any further changes.
“We’re actually in a position to start understanding how human activities are impacting the lakes, and what we can do to mitigate any potential impacts they could have,” said Palmer.
Following the lecture, Palmer fielded questions from the more than 100 attendees. Many of the questions focused on how residents can determine when they need to take action. One person asked how one defines a pristine lake, while another wanted to know whether the environmental movements of the ’70s and ’80s have had positive effects.
Judi Brouse, director of watershed programs at the Muskoka Watershed Council, said she hopes the audience left with a better understanding of the water quality issues facing Muskoka.
“It’s not a simple issue when you think you have a water-quality problem,” said Brouse. “Water-quality is lake specific, and you can’t compare one to another. No two lakes are the same. The changes that people are creating on the lakes are impacting them, and we’ve seen that over the years. We need to keep being vigilant.”
For more information on the lecture, and to see the presentation itself, visit the Muskoka Watershed Council’s website at muskokaheritage.org.