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1. Catchment Facts

General Geography

  • The Rideau River flows through the heart of the Middle Rideau and is a focal point for residents and visitors to the area. It extends from the outlet of Lower Rideau Lake at Poonamalie (where there is one dam and one lock) to Burritts Rapids (where there is also a dam and lock), at which point it enters the Lower Rideau on its way to Rideau Falls. The Rideau River is a designated Canadian Heritage River and an integral part of the Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction. Smiths Falls, Merrickville and Burritts Rapids are the main settlements in the subwatershed
  • The Town of Smiths Falls is the main settlement with other areas of the catchment being predominantly rural in character and agriculture a major land use
  • In the Town of Smiths Falls, the vast majority of the shoreline lands of the Rideau River and Canal within the Town boundary are publically owned, either by the Town or Federal Crown agencies and are used for recreational purposes linked to the use of the Rideau Canal. The Upper Basin of the Canal is a primarily structured shoreline with original canal limestone walls. A small portion of the north shore of the Upper Basin is a beached swimming area for tourists and docking areas are provided for users of the Canal between the Detached and Combined lock stations. The Lower Basin of the Canal is a mixture of structured and unstructured shoreline. The north shore of the Lower Basin remains in the ownership of the Crown up to the high water line after which the lands are privately owned. The southern shore of the Lower Basin is former landfill which has been capped and repurposed as municipal parkland
  • Parks Canada staff manage water levels for recreational purposes along the Rideau Canal/Waterway that runs through the catchment, ensuring 1.5 metres of draft during the navigation season. In this managed system, water levels on the Rideau Canal are manipulated by operation of numerous dams. In the Middle Rideau subwatershed, Parks Canada staff operate 9 dam and lock complexes with 13 locks for a fall of 36.2 metres over 35.6 kilometres. Water levels are maintained as close as possible to set objectives through the May to October navigation season. The levels are lowered through the rest of October and into November and held at the winter levels until the spring freshet in late March or early April naturally increases inflows to the system. To reduce the impact of the higher flows in the spring, the amount of snow water equivalent, forecast rain, ice cover, flows and levels are assessed and the dams in the Middle Rideau reach are operated accordingly to quickly pass as much water as possible. In late April and early May, the dams are gradually closed and water levels are brought up to be ready, once again, for the navigation season

Physical Geography

  • All of Rideau-Smith Falls catchment and the rest of the Middle Rideau subwatershed primarily resides within the Smith Falls Limestone Plain, which in this area is primarily made up of March Formation sandstone and dolostone. The bedrock across the catchment is mainly overlain by a thin veneer of glacial sediment, referred to as ‘drift’ that is generally less than a metre in thickness; although there are significant areas of glacial till and organic deposits
  • Forty-six percent of the catchment lies within the Township of Montague, 20 percent in the Town of Smiths Falls, 18 percent in the Township of Drummond/North Elmsley, 15 percent in the Township of Rideau Lakes and one percent in the Village of Merrickville-Wolford
  • Rideau-Smiths Falls catchment drainage area is 48 square kilometres and occupies about six percent of the Middle Rideau subwatershed and one percent of the Rideau Valley watershed

Vulnerable Areas

  • The Assessment Report developed under the Ontario Clean Water Act identified the catchment area as a Highly Vulnerable Aquifer and the Town of Smiths Falls municipal drinking water source as an Intake Protection Zone, which is  subject to mandatory policies in the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Plan that specifically regulate land uses and activities that are considered drinking water threats, thereby reducing the risk of contamination of the municipal drinking water source
  • Lands along the Rideau River in the catchment are subject to flooding during the regional (100 year) storm. Flood elevations for this section of the Rideau River range from 123.16 metres above mean sea level (masl) downstream of the Poonamalie Dam, to 121.52 masl below Abbot Street, to 112.4 masl downstream of Beckwith Street, to 106.8 masl upstream of the Edmonds Lock


Town of Smiths Falls

  • Is a predominantly serviced urban municipality that has established mandatory service connections for properties subject to intensification and redevelopment on the fringe development areas where there are approximately 40 properties remaining without full services
  • Is classified into five primary development categories in the 2014 Official Plan: Residential, Commercial, Major Institutional, Mixed-Use, Industrial, and Open Space
  • Generally speaking has had historic new development occurring on fringe greenfield sites. Three developments in particular have been recently approved for the construction of mixed density residential communities in the south-western quadrant of the municipality (Ferrara Meadows, Bellamy Farms, and Wood Avenue). These sites are within the influence area of Lousy Creek, a tributary to the Rideau Canal, and adjacent to areas of Provincially Significant Wetland. All three developments have been subject to extensive Environmental Impact Studies and Water Budget Assessments, reviewed and approved by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
  • Has adopted a mandate of intensification and adaptive reuse in the new 2014 Official Plan to guide development to better utilize existing lands rather than consuming greenfield lands. Sites such as the Rideau Regional Centre, the former South Unit Hospital, and various vacant land parcels in established neighbourhoods will be prioritized for development
  • Has the majority of land along the shoreline of the Rideau River and Canal presently developed, however there are several sites at the Combined Lock Station that have been identified for re-development. These sites include: The former Water Treatment Plant; the EconoLodge; the former Canadian Tire shopping centre; and the Parks Canada Gate Shop. These properties are believed to be potential Brownfield sites, as the lands were historically used by the Frost & Wood Implement Manufacturing Company
  • Has The Swale as an area of Provincially Significant Wetland on the western boundary of the Town (SF) and the Townships of Rideau Lakes (RL) and Drummond/North Elmsley (DNE). Existing development around the Swale include: a golf course (DNE), Year-round Trailer Park (DNE) Highway Commercial Development (RL/SF), Big Box Commercial (SF), light residential (SF), existing in-water boat houses (SF) and Institutional/Office uses (SF). One particular property adjacent to the Swale is operated by the Rideau Environmental Action League. REAL has expressed a keen interest to develop shoreline lookouts and interpretive centres as part of a site restoration plan for the former industrial lands. Discussions with both Parks Canada and RVCA have been ongoing
  • Has prepared Conceptual Plans for the redevelopment and revitalization of its Waterfront as has been well documented in the Town of Smiths Falls Downtown Revitalization and Waterfront Integration Master Plan. The Plan calls for the provision of public access to the waterfront, and naturalization of the shoreline where feasible

Drummond/North Elmsley

  • Residential development is generally very scattered with single family residences and no major subdivisions. Along County Road 43 to the west of Smiths Falls, there are some commercial and industrial uses and a greater concentration of single family residences. Elsewhere, other non-residential and non-agricultural uses are small and typically oriented locally to the farming sector


  • Development is concentrated mostly on the periphery of Smiths Falls with older subdivisions on municipal services (Atironto and Carswell) taking on a more urban pattern of development. These subdivisions (especially along the Roger Stevens Road corridor) contain most of the established commercial and industrial development in the Township. North of Smiths Falls, along Highway 15, is a significant amount of industrially zoned land, however to date it is largely undeveloped. The rural remainder of the Township consists of scattered residential and agricultural development, mostly along traditional transportation routes and in areas of good agricultural capability

Rideau Lakes

  • Land use is predominately Rural (RU) and Agricultural (A) with some areas of Rural Estate Lot Subdivision (RG) located to the south of Smiths Falls, off the Poonamalie Road

Conditions at a Glance

Instream and Riparian

  • In the Rideau-Smiths Falls catchment, the riparian buffer (30 m. wide strip along the shoreline of the Rideau River and its tributaries) is comprised of wetland (56 percent), crop and pastureland (15 percent), woodland (11 percent), settlement areas (11 percent) and transportation routes (seven percent)
  • In the Town of Smiths Falls, the 30 metre riparian buffer is comprised of wetland (33 percent), commercial, industrial, institutional and residential areas (33 percent), woodland (14 percent), roads/railways (11 percent) and crop and pastureland (nine percent)
  • Along the Rideau River and Canal through the Town of Smiths Falls, the 30 metre wide riparian buffer contains commercial, institutional and residential areas (59 percent), wetland (19 percent), roads, railways and lock stations (12 percent) and woodland (10 percent)

Land Cover

  • Rideau-Smiths Falls catchment land cover is dominated by crop and pastureland (28 percent) and wetland (27 percent) followed by settlement areas (18 percent), woodland (17 percent), transportation routes (seven percent), water (two percent) and aggregate sites (one percent). From 2008 to 2014, there was an overall land cover change of 42 hectares (from one land cover class to another) in the catchment, most of which can be attributed to the conversion of “crop and pasture” to newly developed ‘settlements’ and emerging ‘wooded areas’ (plantations or early successional woodlands)
  • Town of Smiths Falls land cover is dominated by commercial, industrial and residential areas (44 percent) followed by roads and railways (18 percent), woodland (16 percent), crop and pastureland (11 percent), wetland (eight percent) and water (three percent). From 2008 to 2014, the overall land cover change was 12 hectares, mostly attributable to the conversion of “crop and pasture” to emerging ‘wooded areas’ (plantations or early successional woodlands) and new development
  • Woodland cover in the catchment has increased by 11 hectares between 2008 and 2014 and interior forest habitat has increased by one hectare. In the Town of Smiths Falls, the overall area of woodland has increased by six hectares between the two reporting periods and interior forest habitat has increased by one hectare
  • Wetland cover has decreased by 10 percent (468 ha) from pre-settlement times to the present and now occupies 27 percent of the catchment area


  • Approximately 930 to 990 in-use water wells with provincial records in this catchment. While most water wells are used for domestic water supply, in this catchment, many are also used for commercial, industrial, agricultural, municipal and public water supplies; monitoring wells; cooling systems; or dewatering
  • Numerous Environmental Compliance Approvals have been issued in this catchment for discharge to the environment related to municipal, private and industrial sewage works and industrial and commercial air emissions
  • Several Permits to Take Water have been issued in this catchment for the Smith Falls (surface) water supply wells and for local industrial cooling operations
  • There is one large bedrock aggregate license in this catchment along with one sand and gravel pit license

Catchment Care

  • Twenty stewardship projects have been completed with assistance from the RVCA’s Rural Clean Water and Tree Planting Programs and Ontario Drinking Water Stewardship Program (please see Section 4 of this report for details)
  • The Town of Smiths Falls has installed both its primary intake and backup intake in the Rideau River at Abbott Street and is acutely aware of potential drinking water threats from adjacent land uses. This has led to the area around the Rideau Canal Detached Lock Station (at Abbott Street) being identified as an “Intake Protection Zone 10” in both the Mississippi-Rideau Sourcewater Protection Plan and the Town of Smiths Falls Official Plan. The Town is the first municipality in the MRSPP jurisdiction to adopt stringent Official Plan policies for the protection of its drinking water supply and will be adopting similar provisions in the Zoning Bylaw
  • The Smiths Falls 2034 Official Plan (p.9) serves as the Town’s latest expression of its ongoing commitment to a leadership role in the advancement of an innovation-based economy, the development and implementation of environmental policies, and the utilization of land use planning best practices to shape Smiths Falls’ future. The Plan includes land use policies to shape the transformation of strategically identified and historically underutilized areas into higher-density, mixed-use areas, which can accommodate employment and housing growth and reduce the environmental impacts of that growth by promoting cycling and walkability. Some specific objectives of the Town’s “Environmental Vision” for a “healthy and sustainable environment” are listed below, which help to define and unify the vision for a thriving community and are intended to be implemented by the following policies set out in the Official Plan (p.10, 11):​
    • Conservation of resources including energy, water, wetlands, wildlife, habitat, biodiversity, and other natural resources
    • Protection of natural features and areas for the long term
    • Responsible stewardship for open lands and natural areas
    • A connected system of open lands
    • Healthy urban watershed and ongoing best-practices to floodplain management
    • Source water protection for a safe and lasting water supply and drinking water quality
    • Local and regional cooperation, coordination, and leadership on environmental matters
  • The Town of Smiths Falls is committed to the preservation, protection and restoration of the ecological integrity and scenic characteristics of The Swale Provincially Significant Wetland which is an identified life science area of natural and scientific interest, as well as an important feature of the UNESCO Rideau Canal
  • Smiths Falls is committed to responsible stormwater management to support healthy habitats, a healthy human population and a healthy economy
  • A watershed model developed by the RVCA in 2009 was used to study the hydrologic function of wetlands in the Rideau Valley Watershed, including those found in the Rideau-Smiths Falls catchment
  • The Townships of Drummond-North Elmsley, Montague, Rideau Lakes and the Town of Smiths Falls work with individual property owners on a case by case basis to enable new development and redevelopment while ensuring the scale is suitable for the property, impacts on neighbours are minimized and natural features/hazards, when identified, are protected. Naturalized shorelines are generally negotiated through site plan control and subdivision consent applications, during which time municipal staff work with Parks Canada and the RVCA to harmonize the approvals process
  • Development in and adjacent to the Provincially Significant Wetlands in the catchment (The Swale and some locally significant wetlands) are subject to Ontario Regulation 174-06 (entitled “Development, Interference with Wetlands and Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses”) that protects the hydrologic function of the wetland and also protects landowners and their property from natural hazards (flooding, fluctuating water table, unstable soils) associated with them
  • The report entitled “A Multidisciplinary, Community-Based Study of the Environmental Health of the Rideau River” was prepared by the Canadian Museum of Nature in 2001. The study’s goals were to assess the biodiversity of the Rideau River, from Smiths Falls to Ottawa, and to reconcile local needs with long-term sustainable management of its biological diversity
  • Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada Management Plan (2005) update establishes the long term strategic direction for the management of the Rideau Canal and the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan (2005) specifies how its world heritage values will be protected for present and future generations
  • The Landscape Character Assessment Report identifying key features and visual values along the Rideau Canal was released by the Rideau Corridor Landscape Strategy Steering Committee in April 2013 and includes recommendations for future planning and management actions to protect the visual setting of the Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston, including those found in the Rideau-Smiths Falls catchment