Questions posed and responses were as follows:
- Question: Is there a watershed plan for the Salmon River or any other watershed under Quinte Conservation’s management?
Answer: QC is looking to redo all plans in next 5 years. They have separate operations plans for all dams, which are again being redone next year. Current plans do not address low water levels, but focus instead on a situation with constant water flow. Even for dams with water in a reservoir, if logs were being removed to replenish downstream it would have only been a temporary solution in 2016 as there was no rainfall to replenish supplies and thus would have done more damage to shoreline fish habitat.
- Question: If we got a normal winter, would the snow pack significantly affect the aquifer and water levels?
Answer: If we do not get rain prior to freezing, the water received thereafter will not soak in and replenish groundwater. But, if we do have more rainfall before freeze-up and a normal run-off, this will indeed help.
- Question: Are we still at level 3 drought conditions?
Answer: Yes, specifically regarding the Salmon River. In general, the reservoirs behind the dam have not filled up enough to supply the rivers. QC has 30 wells that are monitored daily. Some of them have started to recover but without rain in the next few weeks, it may be a temporary recovery.
- Question: How long do biologists think it will take for fish stocks in the dry areas below the dams to recover?
Answer: Fish stocks have been hit but there were still some refuges. QC’s management focus was on the spawning areas. Recovery will be species dependent e.g., some species will rebound quickly, such as minnows, but the recovery of other species will be slower – it depends on the species biology.
- Question: Is there a current management plan available to the public?
Answer: Yes, but it is old and not in digital format.
- Question: Will objectives of the revised plan change? For example, likely the old plan was oriented toward getting rid of excess water.
Answer: The old plan focused on habitats and ground water recharge. Historically, this has been the focus – for example, the Depot Lakes were created when land was appropriated in 1950 and the dam built in 1960.
- Question: Are there other options for maintaining water levels, other than dams, such as collecting snow melt?
Answer: No. The geology of the area is largely fractured limestone, and it is hard to hold water.
- Question: Do you control where beaver are? Beaver naturally find places where they can slow water flow and will go to these places.
Answer: No, but it was noted that many beaver dams area also dry due to insufficient water flow. QC has recommended to every municipal council to prepare a drought plan as they anticipate these conditions will re-occur. QC itself searched extensively for a drought plan, but could not find one. They are in the process of drafting a drought plan, which focuses on, for example, bylaws, restricting use, essential uses, non-essential uses, alternate sources in the cases where fire ponds are dry, etc.
- Question: Would it help to dig ponds?
Answer: No, as these rely on groundwater and will dry up if not replenished.
- Question: Are springs drying up?
Answer: As with ponds, springs are maintained as water is coming back into the system. In a drought, they will dry up.
- Question: Who has authority over private dams and why are they allowed?
Answer: Most that exist are historic. The Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) is the governing body for all water control infrastructure – even QC has to get MNRF approval for projects. If the dams were going to be a risk, MNRF could likely step in. But, the structures are privately owned and difficult to regulate. While the Crown owns the river beds, it does not own the structures. Further, some deeds do include the river beds, putting them in private ownership.
- Question: What is the involvement of Fisheries and Oceans?
Answer: They will get involved if there is a habitat violation e.g., if a dam was in poor repair and it would ruin a lot of habitat, they could step in, but, to date, this has not happened as far as QC is aware.
- Question: Can you install a new dam now?
Answer: Not likely as you would need to get a permit and it would likely not be granted. The permit process involves MNRF, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and QC.
- Question: Is QC looking into permaculture?
Answer: Not at an organizational level. However, this could be useful at an individual level. The new planning process is focused on updating the watershed plans as the old plan didn’t address climate change or droughts. QC does have a climate change plan now, which has been sent to all municipalities. The public will be involved in the review process of the new plan and is encouraged to comment. It was noted that climate change impacts more than just water, for example, invasive species impacts are influenced as well. QC will be asking government to put a ban on all non-native species sales. The plan will attempt to address all the issues regarding climate change. Similarly, it was speculated that forest management plans will also have to start taking the same issues into consideration. All are going to change due to climate change and invasive species, etc.
- Question: What are the positives and negatives of lowering lake levels regarding habitat and oxidization? How do you decide if you keep a lake steady or let natural processes occur?
Answer: Plans for dam operations involve fisheries biologists from MNRF and were based on protecting fish habitat and spawning grounds, i.e., wildlife management and flood control. But, there are few dams with enough water behind them to do this – dams are small on the watershed. As a result, QC has limited ability to lower lake levels.
- Question: Is the planning process changing to one of water conservation?
Answer: Yes. There was some thought to this historically – for example, one old plan suggested building a large dam near Madoc to hold back water, but this will also have negative effects.
- Question: Are there other ways for people to get involved?
Answer: Yes. For example, it would help QC to know where private wells were going dry, in order to help understand the drought process. However, some folks may not want to disclose this information. QC stressed that they would keep this information private.
- Question: A lot of houses are being used as vacation rentals with high water usage and not the same investment in water. What is being done to address this?
Answer: Education is the best way, but QC has limited resources. They do have education resources that they can provide. However, much of the battle is making sure people are aware of the situation and their impact. Regardless, homeowners could help by installing low flow showerheads and toilets, etc. so that impacts could be lessened.
- Question: Is there interaction with municipalities to ensure they are taking water planning into account?
Answer: Yes, QC is making presentations to all municipalities. Presentations include discussion not only of conservation but lot size, private wells, etc. QC will provide a hydrogeologist’s assessment to see if ground water is adequate for lot size, etc.