If you’ve been down to the Town Dock recently, you may have noticed that the water level is quite low, prompting some local residents to ask ‘why?’
A winter with an abundance of snow has them guessing at the answer: preparation for a bad year of flooding. But a representative for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) said that there are many factors at play and what will happen this spring depends on more than just the snow pack.
Chris Near, MNRF A/Resource Management Supervisor for the Parry Sound District, said via email that the “level of the Muskoka River in Huntsville is low but normal for this time of year. Lake levels in Huntsville and the rest of the Muskoka Watershed are being drawn down in anticipation of spring and as per operating plans within the Muskoka River Water Management Plan.”
He added that one of the ways in which the MNRF monitors the potential for flood hazards is to assess snow pack conditions not just in Muskoka, but upstream in Algonquin Park. Local water operators “measure snow pack conditions at stations throughout the winter and with greater frequency this time of year,” wrote Near. “The amount of water contained within a snow pack (also referred to as ‘snow water equivalent’) in the Muskoka Watershed is approximately 171mm, which is above average for this time of year, but not as high as in some prior years. Local water managers are in regular contact with staff in Algonquin Park, who have confirmed similar readings. Above average snow water equivalent does not mean flooding will occur, but is one factor that water managers use to inform decision making.” They also consider factors like warm temperatures and rainfall.
An assessment of all of the details available to them may prompt water managers to draw down those lakes with water control structures to create additional capacity for runoff in the spring.
Water levels are being monitored daily, said Near, and are assessed in conjunction with other information, such as: weather forecasts, current watershed conditions, previous dam operations (upstream and downstream), watershed characteristics for individual lakes, individual dam characteristics, and how each lake responds to various dam settings to determine whether operations are required at a particular dam or series of dams.
“In the spring, MNRF District staff connect with local waterpower operators on a regular basis for updates and information about dam operations. The Muskoka River Water Management Plan outlines water levels and flows to be maintained throughout the system, at various times of year,” said Near.
The Muskoka River Watershed is a cascading system, he added. “Water managers must always consider what is happening upstream of the dam (such as the amount of snow) and what impacts may result downstream of the dam. Water operators are drawing lakes down further at this time because of above average snow water equivalent. There are limitations on both the amount of water that can be released downstream and how much water can be stored upstream without having adverse effects, including potential flooding. When water inflows from precipitation or snow melt are too high, these adverse effects may not be avoidable.”
So while a heavy snow pack doesn’t necessarily translate to heavy flooding, with rain, rain, and more rain in the forecast for today and the potential for more in the coming weeks, residents would be wise to prepare for the possibility of flooding this spring.
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