MUSKOKAN — The Muskoka Lakes Association has been studying water quality in Muskoka for 40 years. Our 10-year-old Water Quality Initiative (WQI) is now known far and wide for its successful track record of “citizen science,” sampling and testing the water in Muskoka’s lakes, bays and rivers.
WATER QUALITY ADVOCATE.
John Wood demonstrates his weighted Secchi disk innovation, still used by the Muskoka Lakes Association water quality volunteers. John is one example of a dedicated team helping to ensure Muskoka’s water quality remains high.
Photo by Terence Cooper
Like most MLA programs, the success of the WQI depends entirely on the support of a large number of volunteers. In rain or shine, more than 100 volunteer samplers now collect and test water samples from 192 sites in our Muskoka lakes and rivers.
Though all of our volunteers are valued contributors, one volunteer stands out for his contribution to our testing process and protocols. In profiling John Wood and the impact he has had on our program over the years, the MLA pays tribute to all our dedicated volunteers.
As a child during the Second World War, John was evacuated from England to Canada, where he was lucky enough to stay at an aunt’s cottage in Bala. After the war ended in 1945 John returned to England, but he carried with him the spirit of Muskoka. Five years later he returned to Canada for good.
For the next few years, John worked with Ontario Hydro in Toronto as a boiler and turbine operator assistant, where he honed his skills in mechanics that he would later come to rely upon in his retirement years. Ultimately, however, his dislike of shift work inspired John to pursue a career in sales.
Although he lived in Thornhill, just north of Toronto, John’s love of Muskoka never waned; in 1965, his visiting mother drove the last nail into his newly constructed cottage on Lake Joseph. In 1987, John retired after 25 years with Canadian Tire and relocated permanently to Muskoka. He now lives on the Muskoka River, an important source of water flowing into Lake Muskoka.
As an avid diver and naturalist, John has always been conscious of the environment and the impact of land development, industry and recreation on Muskoka waterways. He recalls that during the years that the Bird Woolen Mill was in operation at the Bracebridge Falls, you could always tell the colour of the wool being spun by the colour of the water in the Muskoka River.
In 2003, the MLA started monitoring sites along the Muskoka River. By then the MLA had about 60 volunteers and we were introducing the concept of teams and leaders. John immediately stepped up to lead the WQI team in the Bracebridge area.
Team leaders assist their volunteers with the collection of biological, chemical and physical water quality data. They also analyze samples for E. coli and document the results, and are responsible for delivering samples for phosphorus testing to the MLA office in Port Carling for ultimate transport to the Dorset Environmental Science Centre.
Long before he became a volunteer with the MLA, John developed his own equipment to measure water clarity. Secchi depth, a measurement of water clarity, is calculated using a Secchi disk — a small black-and-white disk attached to a rope marked off in metres. “Secchi depth” is the depth of water at which the sampler can no long distinguish the white and black parts of the disk.
Early on, WQI volunteers were frustrated trying to sink a flat disk into the water. John engineered his own heavy plastic disk from materials used for department store displays, attached to diving weights that he secured to the plastic disk with discarded snowmobile track studs he found along the trails. He happily shared his innovative solution with the MLA volunteers. With the added weight, the disks sunk perfectly. Today John still manufactures the Secchi disks used by the MLA volunteers.
John feels strongly that it is everyone’s responsibility to watch over each other’s shoulders — to be conscious of the impact of our activities, both on and off the water. Asked if he could offer one piece of advice to new cottagers and waterfront residents about protecting the quality of our water, he said this:
“If you are building, keep it small. Limit the number of bathrooms. Leave the shoreline bushes alone. If you are buying an existing structure, make sure the septic system is operating properly, and have it tested regularly.
“After all, without good water in Muskoka, what do we have?”
The MLA thanks John and all our volunteers for their selfless work monitoring and preserving Muskoka’s precious environment.
For more information about the Muskoka Lakes Association visit their website, mla.on.ca, call 705-765-5723 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.