The recent rise in Muskoka water levels, the elusive Bala hydro plant; the watershed saga continues

Nov. 11 photo by a Bracebridge resident.

Agatha Farmer

BALA - Last week the water levels in the Muskoka Watershed had increased significantly, enough to prompt the Township of Muskoka Lakes to issue a flood update.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry confirmed that water levels throughout the Muskoka Watershed had increased in early November "in response to unusually wet weather."

"While they have recently increased, they are still within the normal range for this time of year. Water levels on Lake Muskoka and throughout the Muskoka River watershed are monitored daily and dams are operated in response to weather events in order to maintain water levels within the normal range where possible," said Maimoona Dinani, MNRF media relations person, "The ministry has removed logs at multiple dams across the Muskoka watershed to slow down the rate of increase in the water levels on a number of lakes. If the weather remains cold and dry over the next week, we expect the water level on Lake Muskoka will begin to decline."

Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding has confirmed that water levels within the township have decreased over the last few days.

Amid the water level conversation is also the question of when the new Swift River Energy Limited hydro plant in Bala will be going online. The answer is as soon as they receive a permit to be able to draw water from the Muskoka River Watershed. To date and according to Harding the company has not received permission to take water.

"They still don't have a license or a permit to take water and the province has not amended the Muskoka River Watershed Management Plan. The ministry is the approval authority so the question is where does this stand in the approval process at that level," said Harding.

The mayor is not sure if the company can cycle water to begin testing the facility without a water taking permit.

"I have not heard anyone say that the gates have been opened and that they tested it. I'm under the impression from the MNRF that there might be a two week timeline to the beginning of testing," he said.

As our readers might have guessed, since even the mayor of Muskoka Lakes does not have a direct line to Swift River to find out when and if the company will be testing a facility in his own township, we also did not receive a reply from Swift River Energy Ltd. regarding a timeline of operation.

When Muskoka Post sent the question regarding a timeline of operation or testing for the Bala facility to the MNRF, the ministry responded and directed us to Swift River.

"Please contact Swift River Energy Limited regarding the testing plans for their water power facility," said MNRF media spokesperson.

We followed up asking if the MNRF communicates with Swift River, as we were not able to reach them, to be able to provide the testing timeline information Dinani said "the ministry communicates regularly with water power operators within the Muskoka River watershed regarding water management and dam operations."

As a result we can't inform you of when testing is set to start or when the facility will be coming online as neither the MNRF nor Swift River have confirmed. The discussion is to be re-surfaced at the Muskoka Lakes December 11 council meeting. SREL has been invited to attend.

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