The Trout Lake Conservation Association (TLCA) is keeping a close eye on an upcoming watershed management study, as association members are concerned the final draft may not go far enough to protect the water quality of the lake, which is the source of drinking water for North Bay.
These concerns were raised by the TLCA in March, when East Ferris and North Bay held open houses to gather feedback from residents about the study. Since then, association members have presented to both councils, first via letter on July 5th, and second, in person on August 9th.
North Bay and East Ferris have commissioned the study, and the completed plan will help both councils make decisions regarding the lake—including lakeshore developments—for many years to come. For although regular tests are undertaken throughout the year to ensure water quality, this study compiled about 30 years of research into a new document that will help inform future policies, regulations, and bylaws concerning the lake and watershed.
Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Limited (HESL) and JL Richards have been contracted to compose the study, which remains a work in progress, with completion most likely to occur this fall. The TLCA’s letter to council in July noted that draft reports on the study “are indicating that Trout Lake and its watershed have unlimited development potential and that the water quality deterioration is now acceptable.”
The TLCA notes that “this is a significant departure from existing planning policies within both Official Plans,” noting that both North Bay and East Ferris have policies “to maintain or improve the water quality of Trout Lake.”
Brent Parsons, of HESL, which is located in Bracebridge, responded to the concerns outlined in the letter. To the point of “unlimited development potential” on the lake, HESL explained that “the updated Lakeshore Capacity Model indicated that there are a considerable number of lots that can be developed before modelled phosphorous concentration reach either the Municipal or Provincial Water Quality Objective for phosphorus.”
Although there remain a “considerable number” of lots that can be developed, “the maximum number of lots was not recommended due to uncertainties associated with climate change, downstream impacts, and best management practices.” HESL noted that recommendations as to how many lots could be developed will be included in its report, and if “improvements to the monitoring programs and the enforcement of the regulatory best management practices” are maintained regarding new developments, the result should be “an improvement to water quality if recommendations are implemented.”
TLCA members strive to remind people that the water quality of Trout Lake, and the waters leading to and from it, are of the utmost importance, a point East Ferris and North Bay agree on. As the TLCA outlined in its letter, “both municipalities have imposed higher municipal water quality objectives than what is required by the province.” The association wants to ensure this “high level of protection” continues, noting “we are at a generational juncture,” and decisions made now will have lasting effects.
The association noted in its letter that “the consultants are ignoring current policies” and “are only applying minimum provincial water quality objectives,” which is aiming too low for the TLCA.
HESL explained that “the more stringent municipal water quality objectives” were referred throughout the report and “referenced extensively when determining capacity through utilization of the Lakeshore Capacity Model,” or when comparing “measured water quality to relevant water quality objectives” regarding total phosphorus.
The Lakeshore Capacity Model is what the province uses to calculate how the water quality of a lake will be affected by the addition or removal of shoreline developments, including homes, cottages, discharge from sewer or septic systems, or rainwater run-off from nearby roads. It’s derived from the Dillon-Rigler model, which was first published in 1975, and this led to the government’s Lakeshore Capacity Model soon after.
In a nutshell, the goal of the model is to maintain acceptable levels of phosphorous, as too much phosphorous will create algae and give large aquatic plants a boost. The increased flora can decrease levels of dissolved oxygen in the lake—a process called eutrophication. Large algae blooms can be harmful to human and animal health, and the low level of oxygen in the water doesn’t do much good for the fish living there.
As sewage has been known to increase phosphorus, there is a concern that septic tanks along the lakeshore will decrease overall water quality. The TLCA expressed concerns that research used to inform the study focused heavily on “experimental septic systems” installed at the end of Northshore Road in the Lechliter Subdivision. Those lots have been approved “as nonimpact lots,” a designation granted by meeting a “90 per cent nutrient retention objective.” In other words, of what goes in, very little comes out, and the TLCA did not want this small data set to influence the entire study, since there are so few of these systems in use.
Hutchinson Environmental noted that there is research indicating that “septic system phosphorus is largely immobilized in Precambrian Shield soils,” a point discussed in detail within the draft report. “The City would be in a precarious position in future Ontario Land Tribunal hearings if this scientifically defensible fact was not acknowledged and incorporated into lake management.”
The authors of the watershed plan “were aware of the technology” used on those non-impact lots and recommended ensuring an 86 per cent retention rate. “Septic effluent simply does not have the nutrient impact on lakes that was traditionally believed,” HESL noted, adding that phosphorous retention is commonly under 90 per cent, “and soils and vegetation located in the buffer zone between the septic bed and the lakeshore provides additional attenuation of phosphorus.”
Authors note that details are provided in the watershed study report, and recommendations have also been made “to improve the monitoring program so that impacts associated with stressors such as boat use and road salt can be monitored through evaluation of relevant parameters such as chloride and total suspended solids.”
Concerned the consultants are “forcing the model to do what they want,” TLCA noted to council that Hutchinson “has also decreased agricultural inputs” that would affect the lake. Decreasing these sources of data runs contrary to a previous assessment by JL Richards, which suggested it should be increased, TLCA members explained. HESL explained that “an updated Lakeshore Capacity Model calibration was completed,” because the model completed by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks “vastly overpredicted measured phosphorus concentrations.” The issue will be laid out in Section 5.3 of the final report, HESL noted.
Authors of the study also emphasized how the water quality between Four Mile Bay and the main basin of Trout Lake have been noted, and “based on a thorough review,” or water quality information, “it is clear that water quality indicators routinely linked to development impacts differ between Four Mile Bay and the Main Basin.” The TLCA expressed concern that separating these sections into two could allow municipalities “to create separate management recommendations for different parts of the same lake,” which is not something the association wants to see.
The study remains in draft form, but in the upcoming months will be presented to both councils for their approvals. Each council is aware of the TLCA’s concerns, and both have agreed to take the association’s concerns into consideration before accepting and adopting the final study. In the meantime, TLCA members will continue to monitor the drafts coming forward from the consultants to ensure the watershed is treated “as a treasured community resource to be protected.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.