Why is the lake level so low this year?

A hot topic this year are the lake levels. Some are enjoying expanded beaches, but others are having trouble floating their boats. Some people are wondering if the lake levels are being tinkered with, but the truth is we have been experiencing a year long drought. Precipitation in Muskoka over the past 12 months is only 70% compared to the 30 year average, according to records collected at the Muskoka Airport.

  July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Normal 93 87 111 101 112 102 98 63 74 79 91 85
This year 67.2 82.2 61.1 110.6 72.8 46.7 61.9 68.3 27.6 77.9 53.8 43.9

Average annual total: 1098mm

Past 12 months total:  774mm

The lack of precipitation has lowered the water table. Ripple, Jessop/Jingo, Palette and Waseosa are headwater lakes, largely fed by springs and wetlands. A lower water table means lower inflow to our lakes and lower levels in our wells.

What can we do about this? There is nothing in the short term that humans can do to raise the water table. But there are some things that we each must be miindful of:

1. Everything is drying out, including vegetation. The forest fire risk right now is classed as "Extreme". There is a total fire ban for all of Muskoka; no burning of yard waste, no campfires, no fireworks. No exceptions.

2. Low lake levels means that any rocks are now closer to the surface. Your boat may strike rocks that it used to safely pass over.

3. Wells will not recover as quickly or may even go dry. Moderate your water use. Space out large draws like baths or wash cycles over the course of the day to give your well time to refill between each use. Limit your time in the shower. Remember the old cottage adage "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down". When renovating, consider options like "low flow" toilets and front-load washing machines that use less water than traditional equipment.

4. Do not add nutrients to the lake!! Fertilizers not only enhance plant growth in our gardens, they can contribute to algae blooms in our lakes. Low water inflow means low water outflow, and a low flushing rate means any fertilizers will stay in the lake, ready to feed a bloom.

5. Fertilizers include the output of your septic system, so make sure that is in good condition. Consider having your tank pumped if it has been a while. (See "How Often Should I Pump My Septic System Tank?" for more information)