Are the Power Plants, Contributing to Flooding In Muskoka?

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Without Prejudice

Dear Premier Ford;

My name is Martin Ford. I am a full-time resident and a small business owner in Muskoka. Floods in 2013, 2016 and again in 2019 have damaged my property.

Like other Muskoka residents, I am angry that the Ontario Government continues to operate and manage the watershed in such a way that Muskoka has flooded 3 times in the last 7 years! Your government, the Minister of Natural Resources, and Forestry (“MNRF”) manages the Muskoka River Water Management Plan (“MRMP”) and is responsible for FLOOD CONTROL.

Premier Ford, you promised us a Muskoka Watershed Task force to make sure the flooding would not happen again. On Friday May 17th, 2019 the task force met and made this tweet:

"Today, @TobyBarrettHN and @JimMcDonell chaired the first flooding engagement session in Huntsville and met with municipal and industry leaders to discuss how to better prepare for future flood events."

HERE’s a Better IDEA: Don’t flood the Muskoka Watershed!

What truly needs to be questioned is the role of the for-profit private Power Plants, their impact on water flow and capacity, and whether they are a significant cause of the flooding in Muskoka.

I have circulated the following petition among my friends and neighbours in Muskoka. I have asked them to SIGN this petition and to forward this petition to their neighbours and friends in Muskoka, requesting their support and signature.

I believe the following issues must be examined and discussed transparently with full public accountability by the Government of Ontario, the District of Muskoka, and our elected municipal officials — NOT an internal, insider, “industry”, closed-door meetings:

·       Since 1948, there had been no major changes in the amount of energy being generated by power plants on the Muskoka River Water Management Plan until 2012.

·       It needs to be questioned whether a significant contributing cause of Muskoka’s flooding has been the increased strain on the water management during winter drawdown/spring thaw to accommodate over 305% more additional Power Plant capacity, as a result of plant upgrades in 2012. Three power plants located on the North and South branches of Muskoka River, namely Bracebridge Falls, Wilson Falls, and High Falls, had work completed prior to 2012 to increased hydro capacity from .6, .6, and .8 megawatts to 2.6, 2.6, and 2.9 megawatts respectively. This represents a collective capacity increase of 305%. (Total 8.1 MW vs 2 MW). What follows in 2013 is record flooding of Muskoka, named “the flood of the century”. Subsequent flooding events happened again in 2016, after a dry winter, and the flooding of 2019 is a 160 % greater than that of “the flood of the century” in 2013. (480 mm vs 178 mm over flood allowance lake level – Lake Muskoka WRWMP MNRF Operational Plan)   

·       Why was water flow decreased (and therefore held upstream of Lake Muskoka) from approximately March 27th 11:00 am to April 2nd, 2019 1:00 pm, before the spring run-off?

·       Why are power plants allowed to hold water upstream and/or decrease flow out during the winter, right before the spring run-off? Why have they expanded control over water storage, water taking, and water control, with diminishing oversight by the province on power plants since 2012 on the Muskoka River Water Management Plan?

·       Why are power plants allowed to use our lakes and shorelines as storage, but not pay us when our lakes, properties, and shorelines are flooded and damaged?

·       Why were MNRF officials providing interviews, saying that the MNRF was not responsible for flood control (when it is), and therefore not responsible for flooding, approximately 6 weeks before this 2019 flood?

·       The power generation capacity increase of 2012 does not take into account the new Hydro Generation plant in Bala at a CHOKEPOINT of the managed watershed, which is expected to be at a minimum of 4.2 megawatts. This then represents an overall increase total of 35 % over the original 29.13 megawatts since 2012. (Total 39.43 MW vs 29.13 MW). ALL of the water on the watershed flows through Lake Muskoka and exits through Bala. If you back up Lake Muskoka, then Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph are backed up as well.

·       The Muskoka Watershed Council (“MWC”) advisory position, paper authored in 2015, purports that the Muskoka Watershed Plan can accommodate 100 megawatts of electricity.  CAN THE MUSKOKA WATERSHED ACCOMMODATE ANY MORE POWER PLANTS?

·       Has the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry made necessary adjustments to its operational plan, infrastructure, and protocols of its operation/management of the “Muskoka River Water Management Plan” (“MRWMP”) for the increased Power Plant capacity on the Muskoka watershed and/or climate change?

·       Why is the Provincial Government ignoring its own scientific experts on watershed management? Dr. Cindy Chu, a scientist with MNRF, states we shouldn’t build infrastructure and allow natural shorelines, which the governments in Muskoka are not following. The Province of Ontario and the District and Township of Muskoka are facilitating the opposite of what experts are advising. The government should stop, pause, and plan for climate change and NOT RUSH hydro! Note 4.

·       Why has the government failed to provide an up-to-date Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) for Bala, and the environmental impact of turning Lake Muskoka into a power plant reservoir? The last report was done in 2009, with a slight addendum in 2012, before the 3 floods in 7 years. What impact will the Bala Power Plant have on further flooding, drought, and water quality if it becomes operational?

·       Why is the Provincial Government pretending it is not responsible for “flood control” on a “managed watershed,” when it is. Why is the Provincial Government speaking about addressing the “risks” of flooding, and reducing the “impacts” of flooding, when it is responsible for FLOOD CONTROL?

·       Why are the economic interests of for-profit power plants, which require water to be stored in lake reservoirs, prioritized over the rights of property owners not to be flooded, to have their property destroyed, and to have their safety and health put at risk? It is for this reason that the Bala Power Plant is so objectionable. Why allow something so potentially damaging to be built at all?

·       There are 25,000 poorly regulated septic systems in the District of Muskoka and we are deeply concerned that these septic systems will release their content into the Muskoka Watershed when flooded. MNRF comment "flooding is normal and a healthy part of watershed ecology" Note (1) Page 15 paragraph 2. We would suggest otherwise.

·       Residential property owners contribute 97.5% of the total tax revenues in the District of Muskoka, yet the District of Muskoka  are making jokes about when it will inform the public about “flood mapping”, as seen here: Please watch this December 21st, 2017, video of the District of Muskoka’s Planning and Economic Committee, chaired by Paul Wiancko, regarding FLOOD mapping, planning, the PROVINCE, and “informing the public” — including laughter about the latter.

·       Flooding on an 11 billion dollars of assessed property (just in the Township of Muskoka Lakes alone) is no laughing matter. What is at stake is the environment and economy of Muskoka and its people. We demand that the issues above are examined transparently and with accountability.

This is not about being resilient to flooding. This is about stopping the flooding. Premier Ford, if you are FOR THE PEOPLE then this petition will see an independent inquiry formed to study these questions and assure the people of Muskoka that flooding will not be in our future.



Martin Ford

Overview of the existing 2006 Muskoka River Watershed Management Plan:

A)         “The normal operating zones of the MNRF dams have remained relatively unchanged over the past 50 years.” Note (1)

B)         “There are 43 water control structures on the Muskoka River system, including 10 waterpower facilities and 31 MNRF dams.” Note (1)

C)         Flood Control is a stated objective of the MRWMP and it is mentioned 23 times in the document, yet this irrefutable fact is now not mentioned by Government Officials. Until 2012 the output of electricity in the system was approximately 29.13 megawatts of electricity. Note (2)

D)         After 2012 the output of electricity in the system was approximately 35 megawatts of electricity. A 20% increase of production requiring more water from the Muskoka River Watershed to achieve production of 35 megawatts.

E)         The increase of 20% does not take into account the new Hydro Generation plant in Bala which is expected to be at a minimum of 4.2 megawatts which would then represent a total of 35% increase over the original megawatts since 2012.



(2)        29.13 Mega Watts (MRWAP APP C EXISTING POWERPLANTS 2006)  history of plants prior to 2012 expansion expansion

 (3)       Muskoka Watershed Council