Protecting the Muskoka River Watershed
Learn about how we protect the Muskoka River Watershed, including the Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative.
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The Muskoka River Watershed
The Muskoka River Watershed consists of 15 sub-watersheds, stretching over 5,100 square kilometres, that empty into the southeastern shores of Georgian Bay.
Its vast forests and more than 2,000 lakes are home to approximately:
- 30 species of fish such as Lake Trout, Yellow Perch and Walleye
- 250 species of birds
- 50 species of mammals
- 35 species of reptiles and amphibians
The Muskoka River Watershed is one of the highlights of our province and a vibrant hub for Ontario’s tourism industry.
This important ecosystem helps support a $400-million tourism and recreational economy and attracts year-round residential development.
The Muskoka River Watershed is changing as a result of climate change and human development projects. Some of the environmental issues impacting the watershed include:
- increases in flooding
- increases in shoreline erosion
- threats to water quality
- threats to biodiversity and natural habitat
Protecting the watershed
Our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan commits to protecting and restoring watersheds to keep Ontario beautiful and pass on a cleaner environment to future generations.
Effective watershed management is important to the people in our communities, especially as watersheds face pressures due to:
- increased development
- flooding caused by severe weather events
The Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative
In August 2018, we announced a $5 million Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative to better identify risks and issues facing the Muskoka Region. This initiative allows the community and province to work together to protect this vital area.
This initiative will:
- help us develop a more comprehensive approach to watershed management
- inform current actions and future development
- support Muskoka’s residents, the local economy and a thriving tourist industry
The Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group
Ontario established the Muskoka Water Advisory Group in August 2019 to help:
- protect and conserve the Muskoka River Watershed
- support the economic growth of the region
The advisory group’s mandate is to:
- provide advice and make recommendations to the minister on:
- priority areas
- addressing priority issues
- types of projects that could be undertaken
- assist in identifying municipal, federal and private funding opportunities
- participate in public and Indigenous engagement efforts upon request from the minister
- communicate with local organizations and communities represented by the advisory group and bring these perspectives forward during advisory group meetings
Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group interim report
The Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group submitted their interim report to the minister in summer 2020 after nearly a year of successful community listening and outreach with:
- municipal governments
- First Nations and Métis representatives
- local organizations
- the public
The interim report outlines the advisory group’s recommendations on priority actions and projects to support the development and implementation of the Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative, including:
- integrated watershed management
- flood mitigation
The advisory group’s advice and recommendations will inform our next steps to protect this important watershed and will contribute to the ministry’s work to develop a more comprehensive approach to watershed management.
Projects receiving funding
In April 2021, we announced an initial investment of over $4.25 million to fund 16 projects to help reduce the impacts of flooding and address the watershed health of the Muskoka River Watershed.
The projects were awarded after careful review and consideration of the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group’s recommendations and advice. Additional projects are in development.
The District of Muskoka and the Town of Bracebridge are leading these projects, described in the table below.
|Establish a community round table||Create a community round table to provide advice and input reflecting local perspectives in the Muskoka River Watershed|
|Establish task forces||Create task forces to address water quality, land/terrestrial and water quantity management in the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Develop a public communications plan||Build partnerships and foster community involvement in integrated watershed management for the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Baseline hydrology model||Develop a model that incorporates the ecological structure and dynamics of the Muskoka River Watershed and characterizes its functions, such as:
|Operational adjustments study||Identify operational adjustments to inform water management planning in the Muskoka River Watershed, such as:
|Examine localized structural mitigation measures||Explore conventional and green/natural infrastructure flood mitigation approaches for specific flood prone areas of the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Expanded floodplain mapping||Prepare floodplain mapping across unmapped and vulnerable areas prone to flooding in the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Natural capital inventory||Identify, assess, inventory and map natural capital within the Muskoka River Watershed (including water, land, air, and renewable and non-renewable resources, such as plant and animal species, forests, air, water and soils) within the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Water management plan review scoping study||Identify the data and information needed to support potential changes to water management plans in the Muskoka River Watershed, including:
|Examine watershed-scale flood mitigation options||Identify options to support watershed-wide flood mitigation approaches, including:
|Review land use policy||Review land use policies by municipality, including a characterization of best-in-class policies for watershed-scale management and recommendations for consistent land use policies in the Muskoka River Watershed.|
|Develop watershed health indicators||Develop watershed health indicators that build on existing information and studies available for the Muskoka River Watershed and provide the environmental and ecological metrics necessary to support the implementation of Integrated Watershed Management.|
|Develop water quality indicators||Develop water quality health indicators that build on existing information and studies available for the Muskoka River Watershed and reflect emerging threats to aquatic ecosystem health.|
|Shoreline erosion study||Identify locations throughout the Muskoka River Watershed where shoreline erosion has occurred as a result of fluctuating water levels. and the Development of strategies or techniques to remediate and limit shoreline damage.|
|Public access inventory||Identify public access points throughout the Muskoka River Watershed. and the Development of local policy options that support environmental, social and economic priorities.|
|Muskoka River Siltation Study||Carry out a siltation and bathymetry (depth of water in rivers or lakes) study to review options and develop recommendations for the management of sediment at the delta of the Muskoka River to Lake Muskoka.|
We will share further details about additional funding for the Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative in the near future.