By Jan Hudson Krueger
How High's the Water, Mama?
Paudash Lake was, once upon a time, much more shallow. A dam was erected at the northern-most end to raise the water level high enough so that boats towing logs could navigate the narrows and bring their loads to the sawmill at the outlet to the Crowe River. You can see the underwater rock ledges that mark the original shoreline. Way under the water!
For many years, the residents along Georgian Bay shores have been struggling with very low water levels. On the flip side, this year, the level of Lake Ontario has risen so much that the Toronto Islands are virtually closed till sometime in August, as of the latest report. Rivers all over cottage country, including Bancroft's York River, are flooding significantly on a yearly basis and the Trent-Severn Waterway had to remain closed over this year's Victoria Day weekend due to unsafe water levels. Driving over the canal in Peterborough showed locks full to the brim and obviously impossible to operate.
And yet, when we got up to the cottage on the Thursday of the May holiday, Paudash seemed to be at a normal level. Our delight evaporated on Monday when the water level inexplicably rose six to eight inches overnight. What gives?
On June 1, a member of the Facebook group, "I have a cottage on Paudash Lake", posted an alert about an abundance of snakes being flooded out of their dens by the rising water. Being a naturalist, I'm comfortable with any animals with zero-to-six legs and enjoy finding snakes under the leaves, in brush piles or carving paths through the long grass. No problem being a hands-on observer. In the lake, though, it's a shared opinion of my husband and I that branches that drift by in the current should not wriggle! In sixty-plus years, I've seen water snakes twice. Apparently, that statistic is about to change.
A representative from the Crowe Valley Conservation Authority addressed the PLCA general meeting one July a few years ago. When queried about the high water levels, he responded by saying that the lake was no higher then than it ever had been. Those of us who had been on the lake for many decades snorted in disbelief at that statement. He reiterated that the Fall drop-down was to encourage trout habitat, but showed no concern about reptiles whose hibernation homes in the mud are now dangerously exposed. He also waved off alarmed comments about high water washing out loon nests, water lilies and other shoreline-dependent flora and fauna. It was a very discouraging presentation.
So, we're back to a dock that floats above its crib. If ever we had a yearning to be rocking on the high seas, all we have to do is sit in our Adirondack chairs on the dock as canoes go by. Boat wakes go even higher and shoreline erosion will increase, lake-wide. Razor-sharp clam and snail shells litter the dock, now that the rocks that the mink usually uses to dine on are submerged.
What's to be done? Revisit the subject through the PLCA, the affected conservation authorities, the municipal and provincial governments? Re-evaluate the dam efficiency? I understand the Crowe River residents' worries about flooding at their end but many ecosystems on Paudash are at risk. Personally speaking, I stand with the loons and the mink.