Lake Muskoka residents ring 2020 flood alarm bell and say government mismanagement is responsible

Photo: Heather Scott - May 3 water level on Lake Muskoka

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Agatha Farmer

Muskoka Post has covered the topic of spring flooding extensively since 2019 and over the last few months. We have talked to mayors, district staff and have been assured that the 2020 Muskoka freshet will be a non-event in comparison to the scenario which unfolded last year.

While this is in fact the case for most Muskokan's this year, Huntsville's Lake Vernon for example has actually been lower in level this spring than the two years previous. Unfortunately, it seems residents along Lake Muskoka are not as confident that flooding will be a non-event for them in 2020 as they watch levels rise to uncomfortable flashbacks from last year.

A Muskoka Lakes resident and realtor Heather Scott has been sounding the alarm bells over the rising Lake Muskoka levels since April 30 when she posted on Facebook that "Lake Muskoka water level is out of control." She has since contacted local media, local politicians and posted social media video messages warning of the possible damages. She is concerned as she has received very little feedback on how this situation will be resolved this year and in the future. The high range level zone Scott says is not acceptable as it floods and damages docks.

Scott continued her campaign to raise awareness of the problem and a couple of days later on Sunday May 3 she once again posted to her facebook page.

"Lake Muskoka is still rising. Frustration is not being able to do anything about it when we can and absolutely have the ability and know what the fix is. Ford Nation you say you hate red tape. Cut the red tape and stop Lake Muskoka flooding. We know exactly what needs to be done right this moment that will stop the water rising," she posted.

Scott firmly believes that watershed levels are being mismanaged. She said that for the past 50 years Lake Muskoka residents have not had these type of issues.

Scott's friend and fellow Muskoka Lakes resident Rob Twible thanked Scott for " heading this effort to protect our property. Part of the allure of Muskoka has been the stability of water levels. This makes Muskoka one of the few places on the planet that has fixed docks and boathouses. This stability is gone, the system is either broken or something more sinister is in play. The solution is simple, we never had issues (ever) until the new system was implemented, yet nothing is being done."

Twible is not far from wrong, in fact he is 100 percent correct when he said nothing has been done since 2019. During the massive floods of last year a Muskoka flood advisory task force was formed which included shareholders, municipal politicians, First Nations, and experts in the field. They were tasked with advising and assisting the provincial government on what should be reviewed and recommended in order to mitigate future flooding. The Muskoka River Water Management Plan was to be included in the review and updated to accommodate the effects of climate change, there have been crickets on the progress of this from all government levels.

The flood report which was released on Nov. 29, 2019 and prepared by Doug McNeil, a special advisor to the provincial government, provided an outline and possible causes of the event and included recommendations. This 157 document, however, did not even make it on the radar of Parry Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller as when questioned by Muskoka Post about the report 2 months after its release in January 2020, Miller admitted that he had not even discussed the recommendations outlined in the report with Muskoka's mayors to prepare for freshet 2020. The importance of the issue for Muskoka constituents seems to be a little foggy for local politicians.

It was, however, clear that achieving a fair and true balance of facts when it came to the management of water levels from a government report which was tasked with investigating its own government ministry was not going to occur. It was concluded that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry was not responsible for the unprecedented 10 day flooding of Muskoka in 2019. The report indicated that it was strictly a climate change event combined with an abnormally high snow pack and copious amounts precipitation - water levels it seems had zero influence. During winter 2020 Muskoka Post had also inquired if any of the three municipalities that had declared flood emergencies last year were prepared with their own mitigating policies this year. It seems, that was not on the municipal radar either as mayors had very little to say about flood mitigation prep being unrolled by them. In an interview with Muskoka Post regarding the 2020 freshet and the possibility of raising some town roads as was discussed immediately following the 2019 flood by then Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison, the current mayor of Huntsville Karin Terziano said the town has no plans for any flood mitigating construction. Terziano rather turned to the The Muskoka Watershed Council for help and said the organization "is reviewing the Muskoka water shed and will be making suggestions for water system controls in the future which we hope will help control water levels." Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding also didn't have any specific township mitigation plans other than further development of emergency preparedness as it pertains to flood warnings and to "illicit more help" from MPP Norm Miller. Interestingly, we don't believe Heather Scott has received any flood warnings this season. Bracebridge Mayor Gryadon Smith at the time of our Jan. 20 article did not weight in on flood mitigation for his town.

While Harding did respond to the flood report by saying that "the provincial flood advisors report certainly does not provide any solutions and certainly not for short term mitigation as to what do to in four months." It was a statement made by Muskoka Lakes director of public works Ken Becking during a council meeting on Jan. 15 which clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of this problem when he said;

"We should have had a far better and far longer lead time to this and we didn't and with the level of technology that we have at our disposal we should have seen this freight train coming."

So if according to an experienced public official we should expect far longer lead times why are Muskoka Lakes residents flooding once again in 2020 with zero notice it seems. According to Heather Scott and other residents there is a simple solution to mitigate flooding - better management.

Twible agrees with Scott.

"The solution is simple, pull logs at the damn. Most of us that work on the lakes were talking a week ago that this was going to happen. Last Monday a friend started another post about the high and rising water levels voicing concern. He noted that the weather forecast predicted 30mm of rain, which translates to 60 plus mm of lake level rise. This rain event of course happened and still nothing is being done. Any competent person would have 2 weeks ago pulled logs at Bala and completely avoided all of this ... the aforementioned log pulling take nothing more than an hour for two people," he said.

In light of the usual ministry run around we receive Muskoka Post has forgone reaching out the MNRF for comment regarding their flood mitigation plan for 2020 as the bureaucratic rhetoric and evasive non- answers never really help anyone, as very little action or motivation to do better seems to come from any level of government on this topic.

This past weekend however, on May 2 Premier Doug Ford acknowledged the issue of spring flooding and said that "during these unprecedented times, our government is prepared for any scenario, and that includes the spring flooding season."

"By working together with our federal, municipal, and First Nations partners and putting our provincial flooding strategy into action, we have taken the critical steps needed to help keep people and communities safe," he said.

Some Lake Muskoka property owners, however, are not feeling quite safe and would disagree that there is a comprehensive flooding strategy out there let alone any action that has been taken to aid them.

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