Elbow Lake - Fish Creek

Elbow Lake - Fish Creek

Elbow Lake Catchment

Tay River Subwatershed Report 2017

ELBOW LAKE CATCHMENT

LandCoverTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001Figure 1 Land cover in the Elbow Lake catchment

The RVCA produces individual reports for 14 catchments in the Tay River subwatershed. Using data collected and analyzed by the RVCA through its watershed monitoring and land cover classification programs, surface water quality and in-stream conditions are reported for the Tay River, Tay Watershed lakes and Tay tributaries along with a summary of environmental conditions for the surrounding countryside every six years, which includes analysis of data collected through the programs along with local information provided by stakeholders up to 2017.

This information is used to better understand the effects of human activity on our water resources, allows us to better track environmental change over time and helps focus watershed management actions where they are needed the most to help sustain the ecosystem services (cultural, aesthetic and recreational values; provisioning of food, fuel and clean water; regulation of erosion/natural hazard protection and water purification; supporting nutrient/water cycling and habitat provision) provided by the catchment’s lands and forests and waters (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

 

The following sections of this report are a compilation of that work for the Elbow Lake catchment.

Table of Contents: Elbow Lake Catchment Report
Catchment Facts Section 1.0
Water Quality Conditions Section 2.0
Riparian Conditions Section 3.0
Land Cover Section 4.0
Stewardship and Water Resources Protection Section 5.0
Accomplishments Section 6.0
Challenges/Issues Section 7.0
Actions/Opportunities Section 8.0

For other Tay River catchments and the Tay River Subwatershed Report, please see Rideau Valley Conservation Authority Subwatershed Reports.

1.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Facts

1.1 General/Physical Geography

Drainage Area

57 square kilometres; occupies seven percent of the Tay River subwatershed; one percent of the Rideau Valley watershed.

Geology/Physiography

Elbow Lake catchment resides within part of the physiographic region known as the Algonquin Highlands. In the Tay River subwatershed, this ancient and hilly geologic region is made up of such Precambrian rocks as marble, conglomerates, and dark or colour banded granite-like rocks. A veneer of glacial drift (glacial till, sand etc.) overlies the bedrock and a geologic fault may run north-south through the eastern section of the catchment.

Municipal Coverage

Central Frontenac Township: (55 km2; 97% of catchment)

South Frontenac Township: (2 km2; 3% of catchment)

Stream Length

All tributaries (including headwater streams): 160 km

1.2 Vulnerable Areas

Aquifer Vulnerability

Mississippi-Rideau Source Water Protection program has mapped the northern part of the catchment as a Significant Groundwater Recharge Areas and all of the catchment as a Highly Vulnerable Aquifer. There are no Well-Head Protection Areas in the catchment. 

Wetland Hydrology

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 Elbow Lake catchment. 

1.3 Conditions at a Glance

Aggregates

Two aggregate licenses in the catchment.

Fish Community/Thermal Regime

Warm and cool water recreational and baitfish fishery with 20 species observed in Fish Creek during 2016.

 

Headwater Drainage Features

Predominantly natural and wetland features with the majority of them having no anthropogenic modifications. Four features had mixed modifications while two features have been straightened, historically.

Instream/Riparian Habitat

Fish Creek: Low to high habitat complexity with increased habitat complexity observed in the lower and middle reaches of the system within the catchment.  Dissolved oxygen conditions on Fish Creek are variable along the system with sections in the middle reach below the guideline to support warmwater biota; however, sections in the upper and lower reaches are acceptable for warmwater species.

Land Cover Change (2008 to 2014)
CatchmentWoodlandCrop-PastureSettlementWetland
Hectares -6 -1 +4 +2
Land Cover Type (2014)
CatchmentWoodlandWetlandCrop-PastureWaterMeadow-ThicketTransportationSettlement
Percent 54 27 8 4 2 2 2
Shoreline Cover Type (30 m. riparian area; 2014)
CatchmentPercentElbow Lake PercentFish Creek   PercentStreams*Percent
Wetland 52 Woodland 69 Wetland 79  Wetland 51
Woodland 37 Settlement 19 Woodland 19 Woodland 37
Crop-Pasture 6 Wetland 12 Transportation 1 Crop-Pasture 8
Transportation 2 --- --- Meadow-Thicket 6 Transportation 2
Settlement 2 --- --- Crop-Pasture 3 Meadow-Thicket 1
Meadow-Thicket 1 --- --- Settlement --- Settlement 1
*Excludes Fish Creek
 

Significant Natural Features

Fish Creek Non-Provincially Significant Wetland

Species at Risk (Elemental Occurrence)
ThreatenedSpecial Concern
Blanding's Turtle Common Five-lined Skink
Bobolink Louisiana Waterthrush
Cerulean Warbler Snapping Turtle
Eastern Meadowlark ---
Eastern Whip-poor-will ---
Water Quality for the Protection of Aquatic Life (2006 to 2017)
Water Quality SourceElbow LakeFish Creek
Surface Chemistry    Very Poor to Poor Fair
Instream Biological --- Poor to Good

 

Fish Creek: Benthic invertebrate samples are sensitive during certain years and change to species that are more tolerant of high organic pollution levels during other years.

Water Wells

Approximately 200 operational private water wells in the Elbow Lake catchment. Groundwater uses are mainly domestic but also include livestock, public and commercial water supplies and monitoring wells.

1.4 Catchment Care

Environmental Management

The Elbow Lake (Parham) Association prepared the Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan (2012) to provide a summary of what is currently known about the Elbow Lake catchment along with the community’s vision for the lake and a list of its main concerns and actions to address them.

Development in, and adjacent to, the Fish Creek Non-Provincially Significant Wetland in the catchment is subject to Ontario Regulation 174-06 (entitled “Development, Interference with Wetlands and Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses”), which 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 it.

One Environmental Compliance Approval was sought for a municipal waste disposal site in the catchment.

Environmental Monitoring

Chemical surface (in-stream) water quality collection by the RVCA since 2003 (see Section 2 of this report).

Benthic invertebrate (aquatic insect) surface (in-stream) water quality collection by the RVCA since 2003 (see Section 3.3.1 of this report).

Fish survey and stream characterization survey by the RVCA on Fish Creek in 2016 included taking measurements and recording observations on instream habitat, bank stability, other attributes and preparing a temperature profile (see Section 3 of this report).

Elbow Lake shoreline assessed as majority ornamental (28 properties; 39 percent); majority natural (23 properties; 32 percent) and majority regenerative (21 properties; 29 percent) by the Watersheds Canada Love Your Lake Program.

Twenty-seven headwater drainage feature assessments were conducted in 2016 at road crossings in the catchment. The protocol measures zero, first and second order headwater drainage features and is a rapid assessment method characterizing the amount of water, sediment transport, and storage capacity within headwater drainage features. (see Section 3.4 of this report).

Classification of Elbow Lake catchment land cover types derived by the RVCA from colour aerial photography that was acquired during the spring of 2008 and 2014 (see Section 4.1). (see Section 4.1 of this report).

Groundwater chemistry information is available from the Ontario Geological Survey for two wells (#13-AG-031 and #13-AG-042) located in the catchment.

Stewardship

Seven stewardship projects were completed by landowners with assistance from the RVCA (see Section 5 of this report).

2.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Water Quality Conditions

Surface water quality conditions in the Elbow Lake catchment are monitored by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority’s (RVCA) Watershed Watch Program and Baseline Water Quality Monitoring Program. Watershed Watch monitors watershed lakes to assess nutrient concentrations, water clarity, dissolved oxygen availability and pH. The baseline water quality program focuses on streams; data is collected for 22 parameters including nutrients (total phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen and ammonia), E. coli, metals (like aluminum and copper) and additional chemical/physical parameters (such as alkalinity, chlorides, pH and total suspended solids). Figure 2 shows the locations of monitoring sites in the catchment. Figure 2 shows the locations of monitoring sites in the catchment.

Figure 2 Water quality monitoring sites on Elbow Lake and Fish Creek
Figure 2 Water quality monitoring sites on Elbow Lake and Fish Creek
 

Water Quality Rating in the Elbow Lake Catchment

The water quality ratings scored high across this catchment and ranges from "Very Poor to Good" (Table 1). All ratings were determined by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Water Quality Index. A “Very Poor” rating indicates that water quality is almost always threatened or impaired; conditions usually depart from natural or desirable levels. A “Poor” rating indicates that water quality is frequently threatened or impaired; conditions often depart from natural or desirable levels. A "Fair" rating indicates that water quality is usually protected but is occasionally threatened or impaired; conditions sometimes depart from natural or desirable levels. A rating of "Good" indicates that only a minor degree of threat or impairment is observed and conditions rarely depart from natural or desirable levels. Each parameter is evaluated against established guidelines to determine water quality conditions. Those parameters that frequently exceed guidelines are presented below. Data has been analyzed over the 2006-2017 period for general trends and conditions. Table 1 shows the overall rating for the monitored surface water quality sites within the catchment and Table 2 outlines the Water Quality Index (WQI) scores and their corresponding ratings.

Table 1 Water Quality Index ratings for the Elbow Lake Catchment
SiteLocation 2006-20082009-20112012-20142015-2017
DP1Elbow LakePoor (47)Poor (53)Poor (53)Very Poor (34)
FIS-03Fish Creek at Long Lake RdGood (83)Fair (67)Fair (78)Fair (69)
FIS-AFish Creek upstream of Bobs LakePoor (58)Fair (76)Good (86)Good (81)
Table 2 Water Quality Index ratings and corresponding index scores (RVCA terminology, original WQI category names in brackets)
RatingIndex Score
Very Good (Excellent)95-100
Good80-94
Fair65-79
Poor (Marginal)45-64
Very Poor (Poor)0-44

2.1 Elbow Lake Water Quality

Surface water quality conditions in Elbow Lake have been monitored by RVCA’s Watershed Watch Program since 2004. Data from the deep point site (DP1) have been used to calculate the WQI rating for Elbow Lake, which averaged “Very Poor-Poor” over the 2006-2017 period (Table 1). Moderate nutrient concentrations, periods of limited oxygen availability and generally clear water all influenced this rating. The following discussion explains how each of the monitored water quality parameters contributes to the lake’s water quality.

This report also considers data from eight additional shoreline sites that are monitored around the lake. These sites have not been included in the calculation of the CCME WQI rating, as they are not monitored with the same frequency as the deep point site. However, they do provide important information on water quality conditions in the near shore areas. For locations of shoreline sites (A-H) please see Figure 2.

2.1.1 Elbow Lake Nutrients

Total phosphorus (TP) is used as a primary indicator of excessive nutrient loading and contributes to abundant aquatic vegetation growth and depleted dissolved oxygen levels. The Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) is used as the TP Guideline and states that in lakes, concentrations greater than 0.020 mg/l indicate an excessive amount of TP within the water column.

Total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) is used as a secondary indicator of nutrient loading. RVCA uses a guideline of 0.500 mg/l to assess TKN[1] within surface waters.

Nutrients at the Elbow Lake Deep Point

TP and TKN sampling results collected by the RVCA are presented in Figures 3 to 6. Some variability has occurred in the sampled TP concentrations at this site Figure 3 and 4); no significant trend[2] was observed in the 2006-2017 data set. Eighty-four percent of samples analyzed for TP were less than the TP guideline and the average concentration was 0.015 mg/l (Table 3). TKN concentration also showed variability, as with TP concentrations no significant change was observed (Figures 5 and 6). Seventy three percent of reported results were below the TKN guideline and the average TKN concentration was 0.453 mg/l (Table 3).

TPscat
Figure 3 Total phosphorous sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 4 Average total phosphorous results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 4 Average total phosphorous results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
Figure 5 Total Kjeldahl nitrogen sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 5 Total Kjeldahl nitrogen sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 5 Total Kjeldahl nitrogen sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017  Figure 6 Total Kjeldahl nitrogen sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 6 Total Kjeldahl nitrogen sampling results at deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
Table 3 Summary of nutrient results for Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Total Phosphorous 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Below Guideline No. Samples 
DP10.01584%45
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Below Guideline No. Samples 
DP10.45373%45

 

Overall, the data presented indicates that nutrient concentration may be considered moderate with occasional exceedances in the mid-lake, deep water site on Elbow Lake.

 
Nutrients around Elbow Lake

The average nutrient concentrations at monitored shoreline sites around the lake vary from year to year (Figures 7 and 8). Please note that in the 2006-2017 monitoring period sites A, D, G and H monitored yearly; while sites B, C, E, and F were only sampled in 2009 and 2014.

Average total phosphorous concentrations are below the TP guideline during most year, with the exception of site C, site D in 2011 and 2017, and site H in 2011 and 2012. A single exceedance is also observed at site B in 2011 (Figure 7). Exceedances at sites that are monitored yearly (B, D, and H) are not consistent making it inconclusive if this is indicative of a persistent problem.

A similar pattern of occasional exceedances at some sites, particularly D and G was also observed in the TKN data set, however the majority of sites did report average concentrations below the guideline each year (Figure 8). Elevated results were also observed at all site in 2014, this may be due to an external factor such as weather conditions that influenced the lake at the time of sampling.

Figure 7 Average total phosphorous concentrations at shoreline monitoring sites in Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 7 Average total phosphorous concentrations at shoreline monitoring sites in Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 7 Average total phosphorous concentrations at shoreline monitoring sites in Elbow Lake, 2006-2017 Figure 8 Average total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations at shoreline monitoring sites in Elbow
Figure 8 Average total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations at shoreline monitoring sites in Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
 
Summary of Elbow Lake Nutrients

Elbow Lake nutrient concentrations are generally below the guidelines. It is possible that occasional problems with nutrient enrichment (i.e. algal blooms or excessive plant growth) may be observed in some shallow, sheltered bays.

Efforts such as the diversion of runoff and enhanced shoreline buffers are important to continue to protect and enhance water quality, and reduce future nutrient increases-particularly in developed areas. Nutrient exceedances may be partially attributed to the natural aging of a lake and basin characteristics. All residents can help minimize their impact on the lake by reducing nutrient inputs through practices such as proper maintenance of septic systems, keeping shorelines natural and using phosphate free soaps and detergents. Promotion of sound stewardship and protection around lake is important to maintain and protect water quality conditions into the future.

2.1.2 Elbow Lake Water Clarity

Water clarity is measured using a Secchi disk during each deep point sample. Table 4 summarizes the recorded depths with an average depth of 3.0 m and shows that 77 percent readings have exceeded the minimum PWQO of 2 m; indicating that algae in the water column is not at excessive levels (good water clarity). Less than 2 m will indicate overproduction in a lake or significant inputs to the water column that are limiting light availability. Figure 9 shows that measured depths range from 1.3 m to 4.6 m. No significant trend was observed in Secchi depths over the 2006-2017 data set, meaning that clarity in the water column has not changed through this period.

Table 4 Summary of Secchi depths recorded at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Secchi 2006-2017
SiteAverage (m)Above GuidelineNo. Samples 
DP13.077%43
Figure 9 Recorded Secchi depths at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 9 Recorded Secchi depths at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
Summary of Elbow Lake Water Clarity

Waters in Elbow Lake are usually clear and sufficient sunlight is able to penetrate the water column to support aquatic life and provide sufficient visibility for safe recreational use (boating, swimming).

2.1.3 Elbow Lake Fish Habitat

Two other factors, dissolved oxygen/temperature and pH were also assessed to provide an overall sense of the health of Elbow Lake from a fish habitat perspective.

2.1.3.1 Elbow Lake Dissolved Oxygen and Temperature

The red bars in Figure 10 show the depths where suitable conditions exist for warm water fish species (temperature less than 25°C and dissolved oxygen greater than 4 mg/l) at the deep point site. The vertical axis represents the total lake depth at each site where the profile is taken. Suitable conditions typically were observed over the monitoring periods to about 6 m of the water column. Periods of very limited conditions were observed in the summer of 2011, 2012 and 2016, due to very warm water temperatures in the upper portion of the water column and depleted oxygen conditions at the deeper depths. Overall, no significant change was noted in conditions through the 2006-2017 period.

Figure 10 Depths suitable for warm water fish species at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 10 Depths suitable for warm water fish species at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
 

2.1.3.2 Elbow Lake pH

The majority of samples (Figure 11) were within guidelines established by the Canadian Council of Minister's of the Environment which state that pH should be between 6.5 and 9 to protect aquatic life (Table 5). Biological activities such as increased photosynthesis from algal blooms and plant growth may influence pH in addition to anthropogenic activities.

Figure 11 pH concentrations at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
Figure 11 pH concentrations at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
 
Table 5 Summary of pH results at the deep point site (DP1) on Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
pH 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Within Guideline No. Samples 
DP17.695%41
 
Summary of Water Quality for Fish Habitat in Elbow Lake

Overall the water chemistry data at the deep point describes suitable habitat conditions for warm water fish species. pH conditions are within the range recommended for the protection of aquatic life. Overall, the data indicates a healthy environment for aquatic species.

2.1.4 Elbow Lake E. Coli

E. coli is sampled at monitored shoreline sites twice each sampling season. E. coli data was not used in the calculations of the WQI rating for the lake due to differences in sampling frequency and site locations. E. coli data has been summarized in Table 6.

Throughout the 2006-2017 period 99 percent of samples collected by RVCA were below the E. coli guideline of 100 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml set by the PWQO; across the lake the count at the geometric mean was 4 CFU/100ml (Table 6). This provides support that there is little indication of bacterial contamination around the lake. Figure 12 show the distribution of counts across all shoreline sites. All sites fell well below the guideline of 100 CFU/100ml.

 
Table 6 Summary of E. coli results for Elbow Lake, 2006-2017
E. coli 2006-2017
SiteGeometric Mean (CFU/100ml)Below GuidelineNo. Samples
DP1499%122
Figure12 Geometric mean of shoreline sites monitored on Elbow Lake, 2003-2008
Figure12 Geometric mean of shoreline sites monitored on Elbow Lake, 2003-2008
 
Summary of Elbow Lake Bacterial Contamination

The results presented above indicate that bacterial contamination is not a significant concern in Elbow Lake and the water should be safe for recreational use such as swimming and boating.

2.2 Fish Creek Water Quality

There are two stream sites on Fish Creek (FIS-03 and FIS-A) monitored in the Elbow Lake and Fish Creek catchment (Figure 1). Water quality at these sites ranged from "Poor" to “Good” (Table 1). The score at each site is largely influenced by elevated nutrient concentrations, iron and high bacterial counts. For more information on the CCME WQI, please see the Tay River Subwatershed Report 2017.

2.2.1 Fish Creek Nutrients

Total phosphorus (TP) is used as a primary indicator of excessive nutrient loading and may contribute to abundant aquatic vegetation growth and depleted dissolved oxygen levels. The Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) is used as the TP Guideline and states that in streams concentrations greater than 0.030 mg/l indicate an excessive amount of TP.

Total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) is used as a secondary indicator of nutrient loading. RVCA uses a guideline of 0.500 mg/l to assess TKN[1].

Tables 7 and 8 summarize average nutrient concentrations at the monitored sites within the Fish Creek catchment and show the proportion of results that met the guidelines.

 
Table 7 Summary of total phosphorus results for the Fish Creek, 2006-2017. Highlighted values indicate average concentrations exceed the guideline
Total Phosphorous 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Below GuidelineNo. Samples
FIS-030.06359%76
FIS-A0.03758%64
Table 8 Summary of total Kjeldahl nitrogen results for the Fish Creek, 2006-2017. Highlighted values indicate average concentrations exceed the guideline
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Below GuidelineNo. Samples
FIS-030.80833%76
FIS-A0.6788%64

2.2.1.1 Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-03

Elevated TP results occurred occasionally at site FIS-03 throughout the monitoring period; 59 % of samples were below the guideline (Figure 14) though average concentrations generally exceed the guidelines during the summer months (Figure 13). The average TP concentration was above the guideline of 0.030 mg/l at 0.063 mg/l (Table 7).

The majority of TKN results have exceeded the guideline (Figure 8), 33 percent of samples below the guideline. The average concentration was 0.808 mg/l and exceeded the guideline of 0.500 mg/l (Table 8).

There was no significant change[2] in the sampled concentrations of TP or TKN at this site over the 2006-2017 period (Figure 14 and 16).

2.2.1.2 Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-A

Elevated TP results also occurred occasionally at the downstream site FIS-A throughout the monitoring period; 57% of samples were below the guideline (Figure 16) monthly average concentrations were variable across the monitoring period (Figure 15). The average TP concentration was just above the guideline at 0.037 mg/l (Table 7).

Nearly all TKN results have exceeded the guideline (Figure 16), only 8 percent of samples were below the guideline. Concentrations were fairly consistent with the highest concentrations observed in October (Figure 15). Overall the average concentration was 0.658 mg/l and exceeded the guideline of 0.500 mg/l (Table 8).

There was no significant change[2] in the sampled concentrations of TP or TKN at this site over the 2006-2017 period (Figure 14 and 16). It should also be noted that access to site FIS-A is difficult and has resulted in fewer collected samples compared to the upstream site FIS-03.

Figure 13  Average monthly total phosphorus concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 13 Average monthly total phosphorus concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 14  Distribution of total phosphorus concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 14 Distribution of total phosphorus concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
 
Figure 15  Average monthly total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 15 Average monthly total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 16  Distribution of total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
Figure 16 Distribution of total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
 
Summary of Fish Creek Nutrients

Results of the two monitored sites on Fish Creek shows that periods of nutrient enrichment is a feature of this creek. Both parameters (total phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen) have concentrations that exceed their respective guidelines. Elevated nutrients may result in nutrient loading downstream and to the Bobs Lake. High nutrient concentrations can help stimulate the growth of algae blooms and other aquatic vegetation in a water body and deplete oxygen levels as the vegetation dies off. It should be noted that this creek is fed by the extensive wetlands, this wetland complex is naturally nutrient rich and is likely the largest contributor to naturally elevated nutrient conditions. Development in this area is also minimal but best management practices such as minimizing storm water runoff, enhanced shoreline buffers, minimizing/discontinuing the use of fertilizers and restricting livestock access in both surrounding agricultural and developed areas can help to reduce additional nutrient enrichment both within this creek.

2.3 Fish Creek Escherichia coli

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is used as an indicator of bacterial pollution from human or animal waste; in elevated concentrations it can pose a risk to human health. The PWQO of 100 colony forming units/100 millilitres (CFU/100 ml) is used as a guideline. E. coli counts greater than this guideline indicate that bacterial contamination may be a problem within a waterbody.

Table 9 summarizes the geometric mean [3] for the monitored sites on Fish Creek and shows the proportion of samples that meet the E. coli guideline of 100 CFU/100 ml. The results of the geometric mean with respect to the guideline for the 2012-2017 period are shown in Figures 17 and 18.

Table 9 Summary of E. coli results for Fish Creek, 2006-2017
E. coli 2012-2017
SiteGeometric Mean (CFU/100ml)Below GuidelineNo. Samples
FIS-036059%76
FIS-A6566%64

2.3.1. Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-03

E. coli counts at site FIS-03 show that there has been no significant trend in bacterial counts (Figure 18). The count at the geometric mean was 60 (Table 9) and the majority of results (59 percent) were below the E. coli guideline. Figure 17 shows that periods of elevated counts are most common is September; this can likely be attributed to warm weather and low flow conditions.

2.3.2. Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-A

At site FIS-A, there was no significant trend noted with respect to E. coli counts (Figure 18). The count at the geometric mean was 65 (Table 9), and the majority of results (66 percent) were below the E. coli guideline. As with upstream site FIS-03, periods of elevated counts are most common in September (Figure 17).

Figure 17  Geometric mean of monthly E. coli counts in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
Figure 17 Geometric mean of monthly E. coli counts in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
Figure 18  Distribution of E. coli counts in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
Figure 18 Distribution of E. coli counts in Fish Creek, 2006-2017
 
Summary of Fish Creek Bacterial Contamination

Bacterial contamination does not appear to be a significant concern in Fish Creek, results are very comparable between upstream and downstream sites. As indicated by Figure 18, occasional exceedances above the guideline of 100 CFU/100ml have been observed. Best management practices such as enhancing shoreline buffers, limiting livestock access and minimizing runoff in both rural and developed areas can help to protect Fish Creek into the future.

 

2.4 Fish Creek Metals

Of the metals routinely monitored in Fish Creek, iron (Fe) occasionally reported concentrations above its respective Provincial Water Quality Objective of 0.300 mg/l. In elevated concentrations, this metal can have toxic effects on sensitive aquatic species.

Table 10 summarizes Fe concentrations within the creek as well as show the proportion of samples that meet guidelines. Figures 19 and 20 show Fe concentrations with respect to the guidelines for the monitoring period, 2006-2017.

Table 10 Summary of iron results in Fish Creek from 2006-2017.
Iron 2006-2017
SiteAverage (mg/l)Below GuidelineNo. Samples
FIS-030.55750%28
FIS-A0.54964%22
 

2.4.1 Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-03

The average Fe concentrations in site FIS-03 was 0.556 mg/l and exceeded the guideline (PWQO). Forty-eight percent of samples were below the guideline and there was no significant change in Fe concentrations across the monitoring period (Table 10, Figure 20). Monthly concentrations were highly variable across the monitoring period, and strongly influenced by single elevated samples (Figure 19).

2.4.2 Fish Creek Monitoring Site FIS-A

Iron concentrations at FIS-A were comparable to site FIS-03. The average Fe concentrations in site FIS-03 was 0.549 mg/l and 64 percent of samples were below the guideline. Overall there was no significant trend in Fe concentrations Figure 20). Monthly concentrations were also variable across the monitoring period (Figure 19).

Figure 20  Average monthly iron concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 19 Average monthly iron concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 21  Distribution of iron concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
Figure 20 Distribution of iron concentrations in Fish Creek, 2006-2017.
 
 
Summary of Fish Creek Metals

In the Fish Creek there is little evidence of increased metal concentration above respective guidelines, though elevated concentrations do occur it is quite likely that they are naturally occurring from groundwater inputs. Even so continued efforts should be made to protect against possible pollution sources and implement best management practices to reduce any inputs such as storm water runoff from hardened surfaces to improve overall stream health and lessen downstream impacts.


1 No Ontario guideline for TKN is presently available; however, waters not influenced by excessive organic inputs typically range from 0.100 to 0.500 mg/l, Environment Canada (1979) Water Quality Sourcebook, A Guide to Water Quality Parameters, Inland Waters Directorate, Water Quality Branch, Ottawa, Canada

2 The evaulations of temporal trends or significant change over time in the data set was preformed using the Mann Kendall trend test and Sens slope estimator, a confidence levels of p<0.05 was used to determine if trends were significant.

3 A type of mean or average, which indicates the central tendency or typical value of a set of numbers by using the product of their values (as opposed to the arithmetic mean which uses their sum). It is often used to summarize a variable that varies over several orders of magnitude, such as E. coli counts.

3.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Riparian Conditions

The Stream Characterization Program evaluated 3.9 km of Fish Creek in 2016. A total of 39 stream survey assessments were completed in the middle of June and July.

During the summer and fall of 2016, the Rideau Valley watershed experienced periods of severe drought. Precipitation levels were measured at less than 40 percent of the long-term average, as the water supply was unable to meet local demand. The lack of rainfall affected the success and function of farm crops, municipal and private wells, lawns and gardens, navigation and ultimately the health of our lakes, rivers and streams.

Low water conditions were readily observed throughout the watershed, as many of the streams were highly fragmented or completely dry. Aquatic species such as amphibians, fish and macroinvertebrates were affected, as suitable habitat may have been limited. Fragmentation of habitat was observed in sections along Fish Creek during drought conditions in 2016.

Fish Creek at County Road 38 in Parham during the drought in the Fall of 2016
 

3.1 Fish Creek Overbank Zone

3.1.1 Riparian Buffer Land Cover Evaluation

The quality of the riparian area increases with the width, complexity and linear extent of its vegetation along a stream or creek. A complex riparian community consists of diverse plant species native to the site, with multiple age-classes providing vertical structural diversity along a watercourse.

Here is a list of watershed benefits from a healthy riparian buffer zone:

  • Reduces the amount of pollutants that reach the stream from surface runoff
  • Helps reduce and mitigates erosion
  • Provides a microclimate that is cooler during the summer months providing cooler water for aquatic organisms
  • Provides large wood structure from fallen trees and limbs that form instream cover, create pools, stabilize the streambed, and provide habitat for aquatic organisms
  • Provides organic material for stream biota that, among other functions, is the base of the food chain in lower order streams
  • Provides habitat for terrestrial insects that drop in the stream and become food for fish and travel corridors for other terrestrial animals
  • Dissipates energy during flood events
  • Often provides the only refuge areas for fish during out-of-bank flows (behind trees, stumps, and logs)

Figure 21 demonstrates the buffer conditions of the left and right banks separately. Fish Creek had a buffer of greater than 30 meters along 92 percent of the left bank and 83 percent of the right bank.

Figure 21 Riparian Buffer Evaluation along Fish Creek
 

3.1.2 Riparian Buffer Alterations

Alterations within the riparian buffer were assessed within three distinct shoreline zones (0-5m, 5-15m, 15-30m), and evaluated based on the dominant vegetative community and/or land cover type (Figure 22). The riparian buffer zone along Fish Creek was found to be dominated by forest, scrubland and wetland conditions. There were several short areas that had altered riparian zone conditions along the watercourse.

Figure 22 Riparian buffer alterations along Fish Creek
 

3.1.3 Adjacent Land Use

The RVCA’s Stream Characterization Program identifies nine different land uses along Fish Creek (Figure 23). Surrounding land use is considered from the beginning to end of the survey section (100m) and up to 100m on each side of the river. Land use outside of this area is not considered for the surveys but is nonetheless part of the subwatershed and will influence the creek. Forest habitat was dominant at 100 percent of sections surveyed; scrubland was found at 62% of sections, 44 percent was classified as meadow habitat, while wetland habitat was observed in the adjacent lands along Fish Creek at 13 percent of the surveyed sections. The remaining land use consisted of active agriculture, pasture, abandoned agriculture, residential and infrastructure in the form of road crossings.

Figure 23 Land Use along Fish Creek
 

3.2 Fish Creek Shoreline Zone

3.2.1 Instream Erosion

Stream erosion is the process by which water erodes and transports sediments, resulting in dynamic flows and diverse habitat conditions. Excessive erosion can result in drastic environmental changes, as habitat conditions, water quality and aquatic life are all negatively affected. Bank stability was assessed as the overall extent of each section with “unstable” shoreline conditions. These conditions are defined by the presence of significant exposed soils/roots, minimal bank vegetation, severe undercutting, slumping or scour and potential failed erosion measures. The majority of Fish Creek had low levels of erosion observed along the surveyed sections with two reaches having moderate levels of erosion in the middle reach (Fig.24).

Figure 24 Erosion levels along Fish Creek
 

3.2.2 Undercut Stream Banks

Stream bank undercuts can provide excellent cover habitat for aquatic life, however excessive levels can be an indication of unstable shoreline conditions. Bank undercut was assessed as the overall extent of each surveyed section with overhanging bank cover present. Figure 25 shows that Fish Creek had no observed undercut banks along the upper and lower reaches of the system, however there were several sections in the middle reaches with low to moderate levels of undercut banks.

Figure 25 Undercut stream banks along Fish Creek
 

3.2.3 Stream Shading

Grasses, shrubs and trees all contribute towards shading a stream. Shade is important in moderating stream temperature, contributing to food supply and helping with nutrient reduction within a stream. Stream cover is assessed as the total coverage area in each section that is shaded by overhanging trees/grasses and tree canopy, at greater than 1m above the water surface. Figure 26 shows low levels of stream shading along in the lower and upper reaches of Fish Creek where the channel naturally widens, which is consistent with wetland habitat conditions. There were many sections in the middle reaches, where the channel narrows, that had high to moderate levels of stream shading along the creek.

Figure 26 Stream shading along Fish Creek
 

3.2.4 Instream Wood Structure

Forested shorelines provide essential complex habitat through the perpetual process of shoreline trees falling into the water. This continuous recruitment of trees creates a wood-based physical structure in the littoral zone that is common on natural systems. Insects, fish, amphibians, birds, and other animals have also evolved with this abundance of near shore wood and it is essential to their life cycles. With increased development along many waterways, forested lakeshores have been altered and wood-based physical structure in many waterways has been reduced. It is important to restore this essential habitat to aquatic ecosystems.

Shoreline Protection
  • Protects shorelines by providing a barrier from wind and wave erosion
  • Reduces sedimentation of the water caused by shoreline slumping due to bank erosion
  • Allows detritus to collect and settle on the lake or creek bed providing the substrate structure required for native aquatic vegetation to establish and outcompete invasive species
Food Source
  • Wood complexes are an important food source for invertebrates
  • Small fish feed on the abundance of invertebrates that are found around these structures
  • Larger fish, waterfowl and shorebirds all benefit from the abundance of invertebrates and small fish feeding around woody structures in the littoral zone
Cover
  • Cover from predators is essential for many fish and animals to successfully complete their life cycle
  • The nooks and crannies of wood complexes offer critters safety from predators while at the same time concentrating prey to make predators more efficient
  • Wood provides the structure on which many species must lay or attach their eggs, therefore these complexes provide quality spawning and nesting habitat
Diversity
  • Wood complexes in the littoral zone provide unique edge habitat along the shoreline
  • Edge habitats contain more species diversity and higher concentrations of species than the adjoining habitats themselves will have

Figure 27 shows that the majority of Fish Creek had high to moderate levels of instream structure along the system. Lower levels of in-water trees and branches were observed in the lower and upper reaches of the creek.

Figure 27 Instream wood structure along Fish Creek
 

3.2.5 Overhanging Wood Structure

Trees and branches that are less than one meter from the surface of the water are defined as overhanging. Overhanging wood structure provide a food source, nutrients and shade which helps to moderate instream water temperatures. Figure 28 shows the system is highly variable with no overhanging branches and trees where the system is wide and is dominated by wetland habitat to areas in the middle reaches that have high levels of overhanging wood structure along Fish Creek.

Figure 28 Overhanging wood structure along Fish Creek
 

3.2.6 Anthropogenic Alterations

Stream alterations are classified based on specific functional criteria associated with the flow conditions, the riparian buffer and potential human influences. Figure 29 shows sixty seven percent of Fish Creek remains “unaltered” with no anthropogenic alterations. Twenty eight percent of Fish Creek was classified as natural with minor anthropogenic changes while five percent was considered altered. The alterations along Fish Creek were in the form of shoreline modifications and road crossings. There were no sections that were classified as being highly altered.

Figure 29 Anthropogenic alterations along Fish Creek
 
 

3.3 Fish Creek Instream Aquatic Habitat

3.3.1 Benthic Invertebrates

Freshwater benthic invertebrates are animals without backbones that live on the stream bottom and include crustaceans such as crayfish, molluscs and immature forms of aquatic insects. Benthos represent an extremely diverse group of aquatic animals and exhibit wide ranges of responses to stressors such as organic pollutants, sediments and toxicants, which allows scientists to use them as bioindicators. As part of the Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network (OBBN), the RVCA has been collecting benthic invertebrates at the County Road 38 site since 2003. Monitoring data is analyzed for each sample site and the results are presented using the Family Biotic Index, Family Richness and percent Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera.

Hilsenhoff Family Biotic Index

The Hilsenhoff Family Biotic Index (FBI) is an indicator of organic and nutrient pollution and provides an estimate of water quality conditions for each site using established pollution tolerance values for benthic invertebrates. FBI results for the Fish Creek catchment at the County Road 38 sample location is summarized by year. “Good” to “Poor” water quality conditions were observed at the Fish Creek sample location (Figure 30) using a grading scheme developed by Conservation Authorities in Ontario for benthic invertebrates.

Figure 30 Hilsenhoff Family Biotic Index at the County Road 38 sample location
 
Family Richness

Family Richness measures the health of the community through its diversity and increases with increasing habitat diversity suitability and healthy water quality conditions. Family Richness is equivalent to the total number of benthic invertebrate families found within a sample. The County Road 38 location is reported to have “Fair” to “Good” family richness (Figure 31).

Figure 31 Family Richness on Fish Creek at the County Road 38 sample location
 
EPT

Ephemeroptera (Mayflies), Plecoptera (Stoneflies), and Trichoptera (Caddisflies) are species considered to be very sensitive to poor water quality conditions. High abundance of these organisms is generally an indication of good water quality conditions at a sample location. The community structure is highly variable with species that are sensitive during some years and other years being dominated by species that are tolerant to poorer water quality conditions at the Fish Creek sample location. As a result, the EPT indicates that the Fish Creek sample location is reported to have wide ranging conditions from “Good” to “Poor” water quality (Figure 32) during the reporting periods.

Figure 32 EPT on Fish Creek at the County Road 38 sample location
 
Conclusion

Overall the Fish Creek sample location at County Road 38 aquatic habitat conditions from a benthic invertebrate perspective is highly variable depending on the year. Conditions ranged from “Good” to “Poor” as the samples have species that are sensitive during certain years and change to species that are more tolerant to high organic pollution levels during other years.

 

3.3.2 Habitat Complexity

Habitat complexity is a measure of the overall diversity of habitat types and features within a stream. Streams with high habitat complexity support a greater variety of species niches, and therefore contribute to greater diversity. Factors such as substrate, flow conditions (pools, riffles) and cover material (vegetation, wood structure, etc.) all provide crucial habitat to aquatic life. Habitat complexity is assessed based on the presence of boulder, cobble and gravel substrates, as well as the presence of instream woody material.

Low to high habitat complexity was identified for Fish Creek (Figure 33). Regions with increased habitat complexity were observed in the lower and middle reaches of the system within the catchment.

Figure 33 Habitat complexity along Fish Creek
 

3.3.3 Instream Substrate

Diverse substrate is important for fish and benthic invertebrate habitat because some species have specific substrate requirements and for example will only reproduce on certain types of substrate. The absence of diverse substrate types may limit the overall diversity of species within a stream. Figure 34 shows the overall presence of various substrate types observed along Fish Creek. Substrate conditions were highly diverse along Fish Creek with all substrate types being recorded at various locations along the creek. Figure 35 shows the dominant substrate type observed for each section surveyed along Fish Creek.

Figure 34 Instream substrate along Fish Creek
 
Figure 35 shows the dominant substrate type along Fish Creek
 

3.3.4 Instream Morphology

Pools and riffles are important habitat features for aquatic life. Riffles are fast flowing areas characterized by agitation and overturn of the water surface. Riffles thereby play a crucial role in contributing to dissolved oxygen conditions and directly support spawning for some fish species. They are also areas that support high benthic invertebrate populations which are an important food source for many aquatic species. Pools are characterized by minimal flows, with relatively deep water and winter/summer refuge habitat for aquatic species. Runs are moderately shallow, with unagitated surfaces of water and areas where the thalweg (deepest part of the channel) is in the center of the channel. Figure 36 shows that Fish Creek is highly variable; 95 percent of sections recorded runs, 67 percent pools and 13 percent riffles. Figure 37 shows where the riffle habitat areas were observed along Fish Creek.

Figure 36 Instream morphology along Fish Creek
 
Figure 37 Instream riffle habitat along Fish Creek
 

3.3.5 Vegetation Type

Instream vegetation provides a variety of functions and is a critical component of the aquatic ecosystem. Aquatic plants promote stream health by:

  • Providing direct riparian/instream habitat
  • Stabilizing flows reducing shoreline erosion
  • Contributing to dissolved oxygen through photosynthesis
  • Maintaining temperature conditions through shading

For example emergent plants along the shoreline can provide shoreline protection from wave action and important rearing habitat for species of waterfowl. Submerged plants provide habitat for fish to find shelter from predator fish while they feed. Floating plants such as water lilies shade the water and can keep temperatures cool while reducing algae growth. Algae was observed in 97 percent of sections, submerged plants were present in 95 percent of the survey sections, floating plants in 82%, narrow leaved emergents were observed in 64 percent of sections, 36 percent free floating plants, 8 percent broad leaved emergents and robust emergents were observed in 3 percent of sections surveyed. Figure 38 depicts the plant community structure for Fish Creek. Figure 39 shows the dominant vegetation type observed for each section surveyed along Fish Creek.

Figure 38 Vegetation type along Fish Creek
 

 

Figure 39 Dominant vegetation type along Fish Creek
 
 

3.3.6 Instream Vegetation Abundance

Instream vegetation is an important factor for a healthy stream ecosystem. Vegetation helps to remove contaminants from the water, contributes oxygen to the stream, and provides habitat for fish and wildlife. Too much vegetation can also be detrimental. Figure 40 demonstrates that Fish Creek reach had normal to common levels of vegetation recorded at 51 and 46 percent of stream surveys. Extensive levels of vegetation were observed in 51 percent of the surveyed sections, while 56 percent of sections had areas with no vegetation.

Figure 40 Instream vegetation abundance along Fish Creek
 

3.3.7 Invasive Species

Invasive species can have major implications on streams and species diversity. Invasive species are one of the largest threats to ecosystems throughout Ontario and can out compete native species, having negative effects on local wildlife, fish and plant populations. Thirty eight percent of the sections surveyed along Fish Creek reach had invasive species. The invasive species observed in Fish Creek were European frogbit, purple loosestrife and dog strangling vine. Invasive species abundance (i.e. the number of observed invasive species per section) was assessed to determine the potential range/vector of many of these species (Figure 41).

Figure 41 Invasive species abundance along Fish Creek
 

3.3.8 Water Chemistry

During the stream characterization survey, a YSI probe is used to collect water chemistry information. Dissolved oxygen (DO), specific conductivity (SPC) and pH are measured at the start and end of each section.

3.3.8.1 Dissolved Oxygen

Dissolved oxygen is a measure of the amount of oxygen dissolved in water. The Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) suggest that for the protection of aquatic life the lowest acceptable dissolved oxygen concentration should be 6 mg/L for warmwater biota and 9.5 mg/L for coldwater biota (CCME, 1999). Figure 42 shows that the dissolved oxygen in Fish Creek supports warmwater and in certain locations coldwater biota along the system. The average dissolved oxygen level observed within Fish Creek was 4.6mg/L which is below the recommended level for warmwater biota. The lower and upper reaches of Fish Creek were within the threshold to support warmwater biota. The middle reaches fell below the recommended threshold to support warmwater aquatic biota.

 
Figure 42 Dissolved oxygen ranges along Fish Creek
 

3.3.8.2 Conductivity

Conductivity in streams is primarily influenced by the geology of the surrounding environment, but can vary drastically as a function of surface water runoff. Currently there are no CCME guideline standards for stream conductivity; however readings which are outside the normal range observed within the system are often an indication of unmitigated discharge and/or stormwater input. The average conductivity observed within the main stem of Fish Creek was 125.5 µs/cm. Figure 43 shows the conductivity readings for Fish Creek.

Figure 43 Specific conductivity ranges in Fish Creek
 

3.3.8.3 pH

Based on the PWQO for pH, a range of 6.5 to 8.5 should be maintained for the protection of aquatic life. Average pH values along Fish Creek averaged 6.93 thereby meeting the provincial standard (Figure 44).

Figure 44 pH ranges along Fish Creek
 

3.3.8.4 Oxygen Saturation (%)

Oxygen saturation is measured as the ratio of dissolved oxygen relative to the maximum amount of oxygen that will dissolve based on the temperature and atmospheric pressure. Well oxygenated water will stabilize at or above 100% saturation, however the presence of decaying matter/pollutants can drastically reduce these levels. Oxygen input through photosynthesis has the potential to increase saturation above 100% to a maximum of 500%, depending on the productivity level of the environment. In order to represent the relationship between concentration and saturation, the measured values have been summarized into 6 classes.​

 
Figure 45 A bivariate assessment of dissolved oxygen concentration (mg/L) and saturation (%) in Fish Creek
 

Dissolved oxygen conditions on Fish Creek were fairly uniform along the system (Figure 45). Sections in the middle reach fell below the guideline to support warmwater biota, however sections in the upper and lower reaches were acceptable for warmwater species.

3.3.8.5 Specific Conductivity Assessment

Specific conductivity (SPC) is a standardized measure of electrical conductance, collected at or corrected to a water temperature of 25⁰C. SPC is directly related to the concentration of ions in water, and is commonly influenced by the presence of dissolved salts, alkalis, chlorides, sulfides and carbonate compounds. The higher the concentration of these compounds, the higher the conductivity. Common sources of elevated conductivity include storm water, agricultural inputs and commercial/industrial effluents.

In order to summarize the conditions observed, SPC levels were evaluated as either normal, moderately elevated or highly elevated. These categories correspond directly to the degree of variation (i.e. standard deviation) at each site relative to the average across the system.

Normal levels were maintained along the majority of Fish Creek, however there was an area in the middle reach with high levels and other areas were reported to have moderately elevated levels in the middle and lower reaches (Figure 46).

Figure 46 Relative specific conductivity levels along Fish Creek
 

3.3.9 Thermal Regime

Many factors can influence fluctuations in stream temperature, including springs, tributaries, precipitation runoff, discharge pipes and stream shading from riparian vegetation. Water temperature is used along with the maximum air temperature (using the Stoneman and Jones method) to classify a watercourse as either warm water, cool water or cold water. Figure 47 shows where the thermal sampling sites were located on Fish Creek. Analysis of the data collected indicates that Fish Creek is classified as a warm water system with cool-warm water reaches (Figure 48).

Figure 47 Temperature logger locations along Fish Creek
 
Figure 48 Temperature logger data for the sites on Fish Creek
 

Each point on the graph represents a temperature that meets the following criteria:

  • Sampling dates between July 1st and September 7th
  • Sampling date is preceded by two consecutive days above 24.5 °C, with no rain
  • Water temperatures are collected at 4pm
  • Air temperature is recorded as the max temperature for that day
 

3.3.10 Groundwater

Groundwater discharge areas can influence stream temperature, contribute nutrients, and provide important stream habitat for fish and other biota. During stream surveys, indicators of groundwater discharge are noted when observed. Indicators include: springs/seeps, watercress, iron staining, significant temperature change and rainbow mineral film. Figure 49 shows areas where one or more of the above groundwater indicators were observed during stream surveys and headwater assessments.

Figure 49 Groundwater indicators observed in the Elbow Lake catchment
 
 

3.3.11 Fish Community

The Fish Creek catchment is classified as a mixed community of warm and cool water recreational and baitfish fishery with 20 species observed. The following is a list of species observed in the watershed in 2016 and historically (Figure 50). There was a significant reduction in species richness observed in 2016 likely as a result of drought conditions. Habitat fragmentation due to low water can reduce the abundance and presence of fish species along the system.

Figure 50 Fish community sampling observations for 2016 in the Elbow Lake catchment
 
 

Table 11 contains a list of species observed in the watershed.

Table 11 Fish species observed in Fish Creek catchment

Fish SpeciesScientific NameFish codeHistorical2016
blacknose shinerNotropis heterolepisBnShiXX
bluegillLepomis macrochirusBluegXX
bluntnose minnowPimephales notatusBnMinX
brassy minnowHybognathus hankinsoniBrMinX
brook sticklebackCulaea inconstansBrStiX
brown bullheadAmeiurus nebulosusBrBulX
burbotLota lotaBurboX
central mudminnowUmbra limiCeMudX
common shinerLuxilus cornutusCoShiX
creek chubSemotilus atromaculatusCrChuX
fallfishSemotilus corporalisFallfX
finescale dacePhoxinus neogaeusFsDacX
golden shinerNotemigonus crysoleucasGoShiX
largemouth bassMicropterus salmoidesLmBasXX
logperchPercina caprodesLopeXX
northern pikeEsox luciusNoPikX
northern redbelly daceChrosomus eosNRDacX
pumpkinseedLepomis gibbosusPumpkXX
rock bassAmbloplites rupestrisRoBasXX
walleyeSander vitreusWalleX
white suckerCatostomus commersoniiWhSucXX
yellow perchPerca flavescensYePerXX
TOTAL Species2010

RVCA staff weighing and measuring fish from Fish Creek before release back into the creek
 
Fyke net set on Fish Creek as one of the fish sampling methods
 

3.3.12 Migratory Obstructions

It is important to know locations of migratory obstructions because these can prevent fish from accessing important spawning and rearing habitat. Migratory obstructions can be natural or manmade, and they can be permanent or seasonal. Figure 51 shows the migration barriers along Fish Creek at the time of the survey in 2016. There were four perched culverts and five debris dams along fish creek and various headwater drainage features within the catchment.

Figure 51 Migratory obstructions in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.3.13 Beaver Dams

Overall beaver dams create natural changes in the environment. Some of the benefits include providing habitat for wildlife, flood control, and silt retention. Additional benefits come from bacterial decomposition of woody material used in the dams which removes excess nutrient and toxins. Beaver dams can also result in flooding of agricultural lands and may be potential barriers to fish migration. Seven beaver dams were identified along Fish Creek in 2016 (Figure 52).

Figure 52 Beaver dam type and locations along Fish Creek
 
One of the beaver dams observed on Fish Creek in 2016
 

3.3.14 Instream Restoration

Figure 53 depicts the locations of instream restoration opportunities as a result of observations made during the stream survey. One channel modification and a garbage cleanup opportunity were identified on Fish Creek.

Figure 53 Instream restoration opportunities in the Elbow Lake - Fish Creek catchment
 

3.4 Headwater Drainage Feature Assessment

3.4.1 Headwaters Sampling Locations

The RVCA Stream Characterization program assessed Headwater Drainage Features for the Fish Creek catchment in 2016. This protocol measures zero, first and second order headwater drainage features (HDF). It is a rapid assessment method characterizing the amount of water, sediment transport, and storage capacity within headwater drainage features (HDF). RVCA is working with other Conservation Authorities and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to implement the protocol with the goal of providing standard datasets to support science development and monitoring of headwater drainage features. An HDF is a depression in the land that conveys surface flow. Additionally, this module provides a means of characterizing the connectivity, form and unique features associated with each HDF (OSAP Protocol, 2013). In 2016 the program sampled 27 sites at road crossings in the Elbow Lake catchment area (Figure 54).

Figure 54 Location of the headwater sampling site in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.2 Headwater Feature Type

The headwater sampling protocol assesses the feature type in order to understand the function of each feature. The evaluation includes the following classifications: defined natural channel, channelized or constrained, multi-thread, no defined feature, tiled, wetland, swale, roadside ditch and pond outlet. By assessing the values associated with the headwater drainage features in the catchment area we can understand the ecosystem services that they provide to the watershed in the form of hydrology, sediment transport, and aquatic and terrestrial functions. The headwater drainage features in the Elbow Lake catchment are predominantly natural and wetland features. Figure 55 shows the feature type of the primary feature at the sampling locations.

Figure 55 Headwater feature types in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.3 Headwater Feature Flow

The observed flow condition within headwater drainage features can be highly variable depending on timing relative to the spring freshet, recent rainfall, soil moisture, etc. Flow conditions are assessed in the spring and in the summer to determine if features are perennial and flow year round, if they are intermittent and dry up during the summer months or if they are ephemeral systems that do not flow regularly and generally respond to specific rainstorm events or snowmelt. Flow conditions in headwater systems can change from year to year depending on local precipitation patterns. Figure 56 shows the observed flow condition at the sampling locations in the Elbow Lake catchment in 2016.

Figure 56 Headwater feature flow conditions in the Elbow Lake catchment
 
A spring photo of the headwater sample site in the Elbow Lake catchment located on County Road 38
 
A summer photo of the headwater sample site in the Elbow Lake catchment located on County Road 38
 

3.4.4 Feature Channel Modifications

Channel modifications were assessed at each headwater drainage feature sampling location. Modifications include channelization, dredging, hardening and realignments. The Fish Creek catchment area had a majority of features with no channel modifications observed, two sites as having been historically dredged/channelized and four locations had mixed modifications. Figure 57 shows the channel modifications observed at the sampling locations for the Elbow Lake catchment.

Figure 57 Headwater feature channel modifications in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.5 Headwater Feature Vegetation

Headwater feature vegetation evaluates the type of vegetation that is found within the drainage feature. The type of vegetated within the channel influences the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem values that the feature provides. For some types of headwater features the vegetation within the feature plays a very important role in flow and sediment movement and provides wildlife habitat. The following classifications are evaluated no vegetation, lawn, wetland, meadow, scrubland and forest. Figure 58 depicts the dominant vegetation observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Elbow Lake catchment.

Figure 58 Headwater feature vegetation types in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.6 Headwater Feature Riparian Vegetation

Headwater riparian vegetation evaluates the type of vegetation that is found along the adjacent lands of a headwater drainage feature. The type of vegetation within the riparian corridor influences the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem values that the feature provides to the watershed. Figure 59 depicts the type of riparian vegetation observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Elbow Lake - Fish Creek catchment. The majority of the headwater drainage features are classified as having natural riparian vegetation with only five features having altered vegetation typically in the form of ornamental grass or agricultural crops in the riparian zone.

Figure 59 Headwater feature riparian vegetation types in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.7 Headwater Feature Sediment Deposition

Assessing the amount of recent sediment deposited in a channel provides an index of the degree to which the feature could be transporting sediment to downstream reaches (OSAP, 2013). Evidence of excessive sediment deposition might indicate the requirement to follow up with more detailed targeted assessments upstream of the site location to identify potential best management practices to be implemented. Sediment deposition ranged from none to substantial for the headwater sites sampled in the Fish Creek catchment area. Figure 60 depicts the degree of sediment deposition observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Elbow Lake catchment. Sediment deposition conditions ranged from no sediment deposition to substantial.

Figure 60 Headwater feature sediment deposition in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

3.4.8 Headwater Feature Upstream Roughness

Feature roughness will provide a measure of the amount of materials within the bankfull channel that could slow down the velocity of water flowing within the headwater feature (OSAP, 2013). Materials on the channel bottom that provide roughness include vegetation, woody Structure and boulders/cobble substrates. Roughness can provide benefits in mitigating downstream erosion on the headwater drainage feature and the receiving watercourse by reducing velocities. Roughness also provides important habitat conditions for aquatic organisms. Figure 61 shows that the feature roughness conditions at the sampling locations in the Elbow Lake catchment were highly variable ranging from minimal to extreme.

Figure 61 Headwater feature roughness in the Elbow Lake
 

4.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Land Cover

Land cover and any change in coverage that has occurred over a six year period is summarized for the Elbow Lake catchment using spatially continuous vector data representing the catchment during the spring of 2008 and 2014. This dataset was developed by the RVCA through heads-up digitization of 20cm DRAPE ortho-imagery at a 1:4000 scale and details the surrounding landscape using 10 land cover classes.

4.1 Elbow Lake Catchment Change

As shown in Table 12 and Figure 1, the dominant land cover type in 2014 is woodland.

Table 12 Land cover in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Land Cover20082014Change - 2008 to 2014
AreaAreaArea
HaPercentHaPercentHaPercent
Woodland*308255307654-6-1
Wetland **15462715482720
>Evaluated(114)(2)(114)(2)(0)(0)
>Unevaluated(1432)(25)(1434)(25)(2)(0)
Crop and Pasture46284618-10
Water2044204400
Meadow-Thicket1272127200
Settlement1232127240
Transportation1032103200
* Does not include treed swamps ** Includes treed swamps

From 2008 to 2014, there was an overall change of six hectares (from one land cover class to another). Most of the change in the Elbow Lake catchment is a result of the conversion of woodland to settlement and woodland reverting to wetland (Figure 62).

LandCoverChangeNewTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 62 Land cover change in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 to 2014)
 

Table 13 provides a detailed breakdown of all land cover change that has taken place in the Elbow Lake catchment between 2008 and 2014.

Table13 Land cover change in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 to 2014)
Land CoverChange - 2008 to 2014
Area
Ha.Percent
Woodland to Settlement2.846.9
Woodland to Unevaluated Wetland2.846.3
Crop and Pasture to Settlement0.46.8

4.2 Woodland Cover

In the Environment Canada Guideline (Third Edition) entitled “How Much Habitat Is Enough?” (hereafter referred to as the “Guideline”) the opening narrative under the Forest Habitat Guidelines section states that prior to European settlement, forest was the predominant habitat in the Mixedwood Plains ecozone. The remnants of this once vast forest now exist in a fragmented state in many areas (including the Rideau Valley watershed) with woodland patches of various sizes distributed across the settled landscape along with higher levels of forest cover associated with features such as the Frontenac Axis (within the on-Shield areas of the Rideau Lakes and Tay River subwatersheds). The forest legacy, in terms of the many types of wildlife species found, overall species richness, ecological functions provided and ecosystem complexity is still evident in the patches and regional forest matrices (found in the Tay River subwatershed and elsewhere in the Rideau Valley watershed). These ecological features are in addition to other influences which forests have on water quality and stream hydrology including reducing soil erosion, producing oxygen, storing carbon along with many other ecological services that are essential not only for wildlife but for human well-being.

The Guideline also notes that forests provide a great many habitat niches that are in turn occupied by a great diversity of plant and animal species. They provide food, water and shelter for these species - whether they are breeding and resident locally or using forest cover to help them move across the landscape. This diversity of species includes many that are considered to be species at risk. Furthermore, from a wildlife perspective, there is increasing evidence that the total forest cover in a given area is a major predictor of the persistence and size of bird populations, and it is possible or perhaps likely that this pattern extends to other flora and fauna groups. The overall effect of a decrease in forest cover on birds in fragmented landscapes is that certain species disappear and many of the remaining ones become rare, or fail to reproduce, while species adapted to more open and successional habitats, as well as those that are more tolerant to human-induced disturbances in general, are able to persist and in some cases thrive. Species with specialized-habitat requirements are most likely to be adversely affected. The overall pattern of distribution of forest cover, the shape, area and juxtaposition of remaining forest patches and the quality of forest cover also play major roles in determining how valuable forests will be to wildlife and people alike.

The current science generally supports minimum forest habitat requirements between 30 and 50 percent, with some limited evidence that the upper limit may be even higher, depending on the organism/species phenomenon under investigation or land-use/resource management planning regime being considered/used.

As shown in Figure 63, 56 percent of the Elbow Creek catchment contains 3076 hectares of upland forest and 76 hectares of lowland forest (treed swamps) versus the 47 percent of woodland cover in the Tay River subwatershed. This is greater than the 30 percent of forest cover that is identified as the minimum threshold required to sustain forest birds according to the Guideline and which may only support less than one half of potential species richness and marginally healthy aquatic systems. When forest cover drops below 30 percent, forest birds tend to disappear as breeders across the landscape.

InteriorForestTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 63 Woodland cover and forest interior in the Elbow Lake catchment (2014)
 

4.2.1 Woodland (Patch) Size

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Reference Manual (Second Edition), larger woodlands are more likely to contain a greater diversity of plant and animal species and communities than smaller woodlands and have a greater relative importance for mobile animal species such as forest birds.

Bigger forests often provide a different type of habitat. Many forest birds breed far more successfully in larger forests than they do in smaller woodlots and some rely heavily on forest interior conditions. Populations are often healthier in regions with more forest cover and where forest fragments are grouped closely together or connected by corridors of natural habitat. Small forests support small numbers of wildlife. Some species are “area-sensitive” and tend not to inhabit small woodlands, regardless of forest interior conditions. Fragmented habitat also isolates local populations, especially small mammals, amphibians and reptiles with limited mobility. This reduces the healthy mixing of genetic traits that helps populations survive over the long run (Conserving the Forest Interior. Ontario Extension Notes, 2000).

The Environment Canada Guideline also notes that for forest plants that do not disperse broadly or quickly, preservation of some relatively undisturbed large forest patches is needed to sustain them because of their restricted dispersal abilities and specialized habitat requirements and to ensure continued seed or propagation sources for restored or regenerating areas nearby.

The Natural Heritage Reference Manual continues by stating that a larger size also allows woodlands to support more resilient nutrient cycles and food webs and to be big enough to permit different and important successional stages to co-exist. Small, isolated woodlands are more susceptible to the effects of blowdown, drought, disease, insect infestations, and invasions by predators and non-indigenous plants. It is also known that the viability of woodland wildlife depends not only on the characteristics of the woodland in which they reside, but also on the characteristics of the surrounding landscape where the woodland is situated. Additionally, the percentage of forest cover in the surrounding landscape, the presence of ecological barriers such as roads, the ability of various species to cross the matrix surrounding the woodland and the proximity of adjacent habitats interact with woodland size in influencing the species assemblage within a woodland.

In the Elbow Lake catchment (in 2014), one hundred and sixty-four (57 percent) of the 286 woodland patches are very small, being less than one hectare in size. Another 96 (34 percent) of the woodland patches ranging from one to less than 20 hectares in size tend to be dominated by edge-tolerant bird species. The remaining 26 (nine percent of) woodland patches range between 27 and 400 hectares in size. Six of these patches contain woodland between 20 and 100 hectares and may support a few area-sensitive species and some edge intolerant species, but will be dominated by edge tolerant species.

Conversely, nine (three percent) of the 286 woodland patches in the drainage area exceed the 100 plus hectare size needed to support most forest dependent, area sensitive birds and are large enough to support approximately 60 percent of edge-intolerant species. Two patches top 200 hectares, which according to the Environment Canada Guideline will support 80 percent of edge-intolerant forest bird species (including most area sensitive species) that prefer interior forest habitat conditions.

Table 14 presents a comparison of woodland patch size in 2008 and 2014 along with any changes that have occurred over that time. A decrease (of six hectares) has been observed in the overall woodland patch area between the two reporting periods with change occurring across all woodland patch size classes above one hectare.

Table 14 Woodland patches in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 and 2014)
Woodland Patch Size Range (ha)Woodland* PatchesPatch Change
200820142008 to 2014
NumberAreaNumberAreaNumberArea
CountPercent HaPercentCountPercent HaPercentCountHa
Less than 1 163575421645754210
1 to 209634434149634432140-2
20 to 5072267872268801
50 to 10010468722104686220-1
100 to 200729753172973310-2
Greater than 200217412321739230-2
Totals285100315810028610031521001-6
*Includes treed swamps

4.2.2 Woodland (Forest) Interior Habitat

The forest interior is habitat deep within woodlands. It is a sheltered, secluded environment away from the influence of forest edges and open habitats. Some people call it the “core” or the “heart” of a woodland. The presence of forest interior is a good sign of woodland health, and is directly related to the woodland’s size and shape. Large woodlands with round or square outlines have the greatest amount of forest interior. Small, narrow woodlands may have no forest interior conditions at all. Forest interior habitat is a remnant natural environment, reminiscent of the extensive, continuous forests of the past. This increasingly rare forest habitat is now a refuge for certain forest-dependent wildlife; they simply must have it to survive and thrive in a fragmented forest landscape (Conserving the Forest Interior. Ontario Extension Notes, 2000).

The Natural Heritage Reference Manual states that woodland interior habitat is usually defined as habitat more than 100 metres from the edge of the woodland and provides for relative seclusion from outside influences along with a moister, more sheltered and productive forest habitat for certain area sensitive species. Woodlands with interior habitat have centres that are more clearly buffered against the edge effects of agricultural activities or more harmful urban activities than those without.

In the Elbow Lake catchment (in 2014), the 286 woodland patches contain 36 forest interior patches (Figure 63) that occupy five percent (261 ha.) of the catchment land area (which is equal to the five percent of interior forest in the Tay River subwatershed). This is below the ten percent figure referred to in the Environment Canada Guideline that is considered to be the minimum threshold for supporting edge intolerant bird species and other forest dwelling species in the landscape.

Most patches (29) have less than 10 hectares of interior forest, eleven of which have small areas of interior forest habitat less than one hectare in size. The remaining seven patches contain interior forest between 12 and 64 hectares in area. Between 2008 and 2014, a small loss of one hectare of interior forest was observed in the Elbow Lake catchment (Table 15).  

Table 15 Woodland interior in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 and 2014)
Woodland Interior Habitat Size Range (ha)Woodland InteriorInterior Change
200820142008 to 2014
NumberAreaNumberAreaNumberArea
CountPercentHaPercentCountPercent HaPercentCountHa
Less than 1 11302111302100
1 to 1018508231185081310-1
10 to 305148432514843200
30 to 5013301213301200
50 to 10013642413642400
Totals36100262100361002611000-1

4.3 Wetland Cover

Wetlands are habitats forming the interface between aquatic and terrestrial systems. They are among the most productive and biologically diverse habitats on the planet. By the 1980s, according to the Natural Heritage Reference Manual, 68 percent of the original wetlands south of the Precambrian Shield in Ontario had been lost through encroachment, land clearance, drainage and filling.

Wetlands perform a number of important ecological and hydrological functions and provide an array of social and economic benefits that society values. Maintaining wetland cover in a watershed provides many ecological, economic, hydrological and social benefits that are listed in the Reference Manual and which may include:

  • contributing to the stabilization of shorelines and to the reduction of erosion damage through the mitigation of water flow and soil binding by plant roots
  • mitigating surface water flow by storing water during periods of peak flow (such as spring snowmelt and heavy rainfall events) and releasing water during periods of low flow (this mitigation of water flow also contributes to a reduction of flood damage)
  • contributing to an improved water quality through the trapping of sediments, the removal and/or retention of excess nutrients, the immobilization and/or degradation of contaminants and the removal of bacteria
  • providing renewable harvesting of timber, fuel wood, fish, wildlife and wild rice
  • contributing to a stable, long-term water supply in areas of groundwater recharge and discharge
  • providing a high diversity of habitats that support a wide variety of plants and animals
  • acting as “carbon sinks” making a significant contribution to carbon storage
  • providing opportunities for recreation, education, research and tourism

Historically, the overall wetland coverage within the Great Lakes basin exceeded 10 percent, but there was significant variability among watersheds and jurisdictions, as stated in the Environment Canada Guideline. In the Rideau Valley Watershed, it has been estimated that pre-settlement wetland cover averaged 35 percent using information provided by Ducks Unlimited Canada (2010) versus the 21 percent of wetland cover existing in 2014 derived from DRAPE imagery analysis.

CurrentWetlandTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 64 Wetland cover in the Elbow Lake catchment (2014)
 
 

Reliable, pre-settlement wetland cover data is unavailable for the Elbow Lake catchment; however, data for the years 2008 and 2014 is available and shows that wetland cover remains largely unchanged at 27 percent in 2014 (as indicated in Table 16 and shown in Figure 64). To maintain critical hydrological, ecological functions along with related recreational and economic benefits provided by these wetland habitats in the catchment, a “no net loss” of currently existing wetlands should be employed to ensure the continued provision of tangible benefits accruing from them to landowners and surrounding communities.

Table 16 Wetland cover in the Elbow Lake catchment (2014)
Wetland Cover Pre-settlement20082014Change - Historic to 2014
Area  Area  Area  Area  
Ha Percent Ha Percent Ha Percent Ha Percent 
Elbow Laken/an/a154527154827n/an/a
Tay Rivern/an/a15280191533019n/an/a
Rideau Valley13411535n/an/a8207621-52039-39

4.4 Shoreline Cover

The riparian or shoreline zone is that special area where the land meets the water. Well-vegetated shorelines are critically important in protecting water quality and creating healthy aquatic habitats, lakes and rivers. Natural shorelines intercept sediments and contaminants that could impact water quality conditions and harm fish habitat in streams. Well established buffers protect the banks against erosion, improve habitat for fish by shading and cooling the water and provide protection for birds and other wildlife that feed and rear young near water. A recommended target (from the Environment Canada Guideline) is to maintain a minimum 30 metre wide vegetated buffer along at least 75 percent of the length of both sides of rivers, creeks and streams.

Figure 65 shows the extent of the ‘Natural’ vegetated riparian zone (predominantly wetland/woodland features) and ‘Other’ anthropogenic cover (crop/pastureland, roads/railways, settlements) along a 30-metre-wide area of land around Elbow Lake, other lakes and along both sides of the shoreline of Fish Creek and the many unnamed watercourses (including headwater streams) found in the Elbow Lake catchment.

 
RiparianLandCoverwWetlandTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 65 Natural and other riparian land cover in the Elbow Lake catchment (2014)
 

This analysis shows that the Elbow Lake catchment riparian buffer is composed of wetland (52 percent), woodland (37 percent), crop and pastureland (six percent), roads (two percent), settlement (two percent) and meadow-thicket (one percent). Along the many watercourses (including headwater streams) flowing into Duncan and Elbow Lake and Fish Creek, the riparian buffer is composed of wetland (51 percent), woodland (37 percent), crop and pastureland (eight percent), roads (two percent), meadow-thicket (one percent) and settlement areas (one percent).

Around Elbow Lake itself, the shoreline buffer is dominated by woodland (69 percent) and cottages and houses (19 percent) with the remainder comprised of wetland (12 percent) and roads (less than one percent). Along Fish Creek, the riparian zone is composed of wetland (79 percent), woodland (19 percent), roads (one percent) and meadow-thicket, settlement and crop and pastureland (total of one percent). 

Additional statistics for the Elbow Lake catchment are presented in Tables 17 to 20 and show that there has been little to no change in shoreline cover from 2008 to 2014.

 
Table 17 Riparian land cover in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover20082014Change - 2008 to 2014
AreaAreaArea
Ha.Percent Ha.PercentHa.Percent
Wetland513.0552.21514.2552.331.200.12
> Unevaluated(475.86)(48.43)(477.06)(48.55)(1.20)(0.12)
>Evaluated(37.19)(3.78)(37.19)(3.78)(0.00)(0.00)
Woodland365.3337.18363.8637.03-1.47-0.15
Crop & Pasture59.556.0659.556.060.000.00
Transportation16.391.6716.391.670.000.00
Settlement16.251.6516.531.680.280.03
Meadow-Thicket12.061.2312.061.230.000.00
Table 18 Riparian land cover around Elbow Lake (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover20082014Change - 2008 to 2014
AreaAreaArea
Ha.Percent Ha.PercentHa.Percent
Woodland22.9769.5722.6968.73-0.28-0.84
Settlement5.9017.876.1818.720.280.85
Wetland3.9812.063.9812.060.000.00
> Unevaluated(3.98)(12.06)(3.98)(12.06)(0.00)(0.00)
Transportation0.160.500.160.500.000.00
Table 19 Riparian land cover along Fish Creek (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover20082014Change - 2008 to 2014
AreaAreaArea
Ha.Percent Ha.PercentHa.Percent
Wetland93.6678.5893.8778.750.210.17
> Unevaluated(71.85)(60.28)(72.06)(60.45)(0.21)(0.17)
> Evaluated(21.81)(18.3)(21.81)(18.3)(0.00)(0.00)
Woodland22.9119.2222.7119.05-0.20-0.17
Transportation1.241.051.251.050.010.00
Meadow-Thicket0.610.510.610.510.000.00
Settlement0.420.350.420.350.000.00
Crop and Pasture0.350.290.350.290.000.00
 
Table 20 Riparian land cover along streams in the Elbow Lake catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover20082014Change - 2008 to 2014
AreaAreaArea
Ha.Percent Ha.PercentHa.Percent
Wetland403.4750.72404.4550.840.980.12
> Unevaluated(388.09)(48.79)(389.07)(48.91)(0.98)(0.12)
>Evaluated(15.38)(1.93)(15.38)(1.93)(0.00)(0.00)
Woodland297.9637.46296.9737.33-0.99-0.13
Crop & Pasture59.207.4459.27.440.000.00
Transportation14.211.7914.211.790.000.00
Meadow-Thicket10.731.3510.731.350.000.00
Settlement9.851.249.851.240.000.00

5.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Stewardship and Water Resources Protection

The RVCA and its partners are working to protect and enhance environmental conditions in the Tay River Watershed. Figure 66 shows the location of all stewardship projects completed in the Elbow Lake catchment.

StewardshipTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 66 Stewardship site locations in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

5.1 Rural Clean Water

The Rural Clean Water Program provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and other rural landowners, to aid in the implementation of projects that protect water quality. Funding is granted to those projects that support best management practices for application in the protection and improvement of surface and ground water resources.  The program also supports climate change adaptation and low impact development projects as well as educating rural landowners about environmental stewardship of private property. Examples of supported projects include livestock exclusion fencing, controlled tile drainage, cover crops, erosion control, well related projects, and many more. For a list of eligible projects and to apply for funding, see Rural Clean Water.

In the Elbow Lake catchment from 2011 to 2016, one windbreak/buffer and one education initiative were completed at a total value of $2,115.00 with $978.00 of that amount funded through grant dollars from the RVCA.

5.2 Private Land Forestry

Forest cover and tree planting continues to be one of the most widely supported strategies to improve our environment. The many benefits of forest cover include carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and water quality improvement as well as providing wildlife habitat. For more information about the Program and landowner eligibility, please see the following: Tree Planting in the Rideau Valley Watershed and Trees for Tomorrow.

5.3 Shoreline Naturalization

Natural shoreline buffers rich in native plants are critically important to protecting the health of our lakes, rivers and streams. Shoreline vegetation protects water quality and aquatic habitat by intercepting potentially harmful contaminants such as nutrients, pollutants and sediment, regulating water temperatures, slowing runoff and providing important fish and wildlife habitat. Natural shorelines also help improve climate change resiliency by increasing flood storage and providing protection from erosion during extreme weather events.

Though the RVCA's Shoreline Naturalization Program, landowners (private and public property owners) have naturalized more than 2.3 km of shoreline in the Tay Watershed by planting over 10,563 native trees and shrubs at 96 sites since 2008. In the Elbow Lake catchment, a total of 426 native trees and shrubs have been planted along 100 metres of shoreline at an average buffer width of five metres for a total project value of $4,834.00.

5.4 Fish and Wetland Habitat Improvement

With funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources, a group of volunteer from Elbow Lake hauled cobblestone onto the winter ice in order to improve the potential of the walleye spawning bed in the lake. This work was completed in 2013 and its success is to be determined using the results from a fish survey conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in 2017.

5.5 Valley, Stream, Wetland and Hazard Lands

The Elbow Lake catchment covers 56 square kilometres with 2.5 square kilometres (or four percent) of the drainage area being within the regulation limit of Ontario Regulation 174/06 (Figure 67), giving protection to wetland areas and river or stream valleys that are affected by flooding and erosion hazards.

Wetlands occupy 15 square kilometres (or 27 percent) of the catchment. Of these wetlands, one square kilometre (or seven percent) is designated as provincially significant and included within the RVCA regulation limit. This leaves the remaining 14 sq. km (or 93 percent) of wetlands in the catchment outside the regulated area limit.

Of the 159.9 kilometres of stream in the catchment, regulation limit mapping has been plotted along 9.7 kilometers of streams (representing six percent of all streams in the catchment). Some of these regulated streams (6.9 km) flow through regulated wetlands; the remaining 2.8 kilometres of regulated streams are located outside of those wetlands. Plotting of the regulation limit on the remaining 150.2 kilometres (or 94 percent) of streams requires identification of flood and erosion hazards and valley systems.

Within those areas of the Elbow Lake catchment subject to the regulation (limit), efforts (have been made and) continue through RVCA planning and regulations input and review to manage the impact of development (and other land management practices) in areas where “natural hazards” are associated with rivers, streams, valley lands and wetlands. For areas beyond the regulation limit, protection of the catchment’s watercourses is only provided through the “alteration to waterways” provision of the regulation.

RegulatedFeaturesNewTay-RiverFish-Creek-001-001
Figure 67 Regulated natural features and hazards in the Elbow Lake catchment
 

5.6 Vulnerable Drinking Water Areas

Mississippi-Rideau Source Water Protection Program has mapped the north boundary of the Elbow Lake catchment as a Significant Groundwater Recharge Areas and all of the catchment as a Highly Vulnerable Aquifer. This means that the nature of the overburden (thin soils, fractured bedrock) does not provide a high level of protection for the underlying groundwater making the aquifer more vulnerable to contaminants released on the surface. There are no Well-Head protection Areas in the catchment.

The Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Plan includes policies that focus on the protection of groundwater region-wide due to the fact that most of the region, which encompasses the Mississippi and Rideau watersheds, is considered Highly Vulnerable Aquifer. For detailed maps and policies that have been developed to protect drinking water sources, visit the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Region website.

6.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Accomplishments

Developed by the Elbow Lake (Parham) Association and its partners, the Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan (2012) provides information on many aspects of the lake environment, as well as issues of concern and actions to be taken to maintain and improve the long-term health of the lake. The following list includes some of the accomplishments of the Elbow Lake Association and residents that have implications for the well-being of the land and water resources of the lake ecosystem. Specific achievements of the Elbow Lake community are indicated by an asterisk.

Elbow Lake and Catchment Health

Shoreline Assessment

In 2013, an assessment of the Elbow Lake shoreline was carried out under the Love Your Lake Program. Individual assessment reports were made available to property owners in the spring of 2014. To date, only 39 of the 72 reports have been ordered (although it should be noted that 11 of the 72 properties are undeveloped). In 2017, the Elbow Lake Association decided to help fund the (re)printing of all 72 reports and will deliver them to property owners in 2018 along with information about the RVCA's Shoreline Naturalization Program.*

Out of the 72 properties assessed under the Love Your Lake Program, 28 (39 percent) were classified as majority ornamental, 23 (32 percent) as majority natural and 21 (29 percent) as majority regenerative. It is recognized that ornamental or degraded waterfronts will contribute additional nutrients and sediments to a waterbody such as Elbow Lake.

Shoreline Naturalization

In 2015, while carrying out a live planting on one resident’s property, RVCA presented a short workshop on shoreline naturalization. As a follow-up, the Elbow Lake Association appointed a coordinator to help organize RVCA site visits for residents and has been promoting the Program at its AGM's. To date, another seven properties have had site visits. In addition, at least three others have agreed to planting plans in the course of obtaining building permits to replace their cottages with new homes. One of these was for a new home on the site of a small campground, which was the only commercial development on the lake and has now been removed.*

426 native trees and shrubs have been planted at five project sites by the RVCA’s Shoreline Naturalization Program at an average buffer width of five metres along 100 metres of shoreline.

Water Quality

Elbow Lake is sampled yearly by the RVCA for five parameters, four times a year along with one stream sampling site on Fish Creek being sampled for 22 parameters, six times a year to assess surface chemistry water quality conditions.

One Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network site on Fish Creek is sampled by the RVCA with three replicates to assess instream biological water quality conditions.

Two Rural Clean Water Program projects were completed by the RVCA Rural Clean Water Program.

Township of Central Frontenac will implement a septic re-inspection program (mandatory/voluntary) in 2019. The service is to be provided by the Mississippi-Rideau Septic System Office.

Elbow Lake and Catchment Habitat

Broad-scale Fish Community Monitoring

2012 fish survey was conducted by the Frontenac Stewardship Council at the request of the Lake Steward in order to establish a baseline for determining the success of any future fish enhancement project. Specimens were sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources for aging, etc. The 2017 fish survey was conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Results have not yet been received.*

Walleye Spawning Enhancement Project

With funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources, a group of volunteer lake residents in 2013 hauled cobblestone onto the winter ice in order to improve the potential of the walleye spawning bed. The results of the 2017 fish survey will help to evaluate the success of this effort.*

In-stream Habitat

2.7 kilometres of Fish Creek are surveyed and 27 headwaters sites are sampled by the RVCA Stream Characterization Program.

Elbow Lake Association Leadership

Lake Planning

The Elbow Lake (Parham) Stewardship Plan was published in spring 2012 and distributed to all property owners. It was also presented to the Township of Central Frontenac Council in the fall. Since then, projects and issues related to the Plan’s five main objectives have been discussed annually at the Lake Association’s Annual General Meeting.These objectives are to: 1) maintain and improve water quality 2) maintain and improve wildlife and fish habitat 3) preserve peace and tranquility 4) emphasize safety in the pursuit of recreational opportunities and 5) strengthen a sense of community.*

Liaison with Other Lake Associations

The Elbow Lake Association continues to liaise with other local lake associations through its participation in the Lake Networking Group.*

7.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Challenges/Issues

Developed by the Elbow Lake (Parham) Association and its partners, the Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan (2012) provides information on many aspects of the lake environment, as well as issues of concern identified by the lake community that could threaten the long-term health of the lake. The following list includes some of those identified issues that have implications for the water and land resources of the lake ecosystem. Specific issues noted by the lake community are indicated by an asterisk.

Development

Waterfront property development is occurring primarily through the transformation of traditional, seasonal cottages into larger year-round dwellings. This transition is taking place either through re-development of an existing cottage lot or incremental alterations (additions, sleeping cabins, gazebos, decks, sheds, boat houses, garages, lawns, shoreline modifications, docks), all of which may put additional stress on the sensitive shoreline zone and the lake along with potential, added septic system loading.

Many waterfront properties contain existing non-conforming dwellings with respect to minimum water frontage and lot area and are often located within 30 metres of the water that require minor variances for expansion and/or reconstruction of dwellings where standard development setbacks from water are difficult to achieve. In these cases, of which there are many, staff at the Township of Central Frontenac and the Conservation Authority often meet with resistance and push back when attempts are made to implement standards for development setbacks, vegetated shorelines and septic systems.

Monitoring implementation of conditions of planning and regulatory approvals is challenging due to a lack of resources.

Headwaters/In-water Habitat/Shorelines

The Elbow Lake Association has been actively promoting good shoreline practices for many years. The Executive is disappointed that more Elbow Lake residents have not ordered their 2013 Love your Lake Shoreline Assessment Reports or participated in the RVCA Shoreline Naturalization Program.*

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the level of aquatic vegetation in Elbow Lake has increased significantly since the Frontenac Stewardship Council conducted a survey in 2010. At the time, Eurasian Watermilfoil was found at six sites with only one patch being of significant size; in 2017, at least one other large patch has appeared along with other smaller ones.*

Elbow Lake has seen a small increase in the area of settlement (0.28 ha.) along its shoreline between 2008 and 2014, due primarily to a loss of woodland.

Two of twenty-seven sampled headwater sites in the catchment have been modified (one is channelized, the other is a roadside ditch)(see Section 3.4.2 of this report).

Littoral zone mapping identifying substrate type, vegetation and habitat features along with opportunities for shoreline enhancement is unavailable for Elbow Lake.

Land Cover

Land cover has changed across the catchment (2008 to 2014) largely as a result of an increase in the area of settlement (4 ha.) and wetland (2 ha.) and loss of woodland (6 ha.)(see Section 4.1 of this report).

Wetlands cover 27 percent (1548 ha.) of the catchment (in 2014). Ninety-three percent (1434 ha.) of these wetlands remain unevaluated and unregulated and although they are not under imminent threat from development activity, they do remain vulnerable to drainage and land clearing activities in the absence of any regulatory and planning controls that would otherwise protect them for the many important hydrological, social, biological and ecological functions/services/values they provide to landowners and the surrounding community (see Section 4.3 of this report).

Water Quality

Elbow Lake surface chemistry water quality rating ranges from Very Poor to Poor (see Section 2.1 of this report).

The Elbow Lake Association notes that phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations have shown persistent instances of elevated levels above the Provincial Water Quality Objectives through the years. This may be due to the influence of such factors as the large wetland along the south shore of the lake and repeated dynamiting of the beaver dam along the CPR railroad.*   

Fish Creek surface chemistry water quality rating ranges from Fair in its upper reach (at the Wagarville Rd. crossing) to Poor and Good close to its outlet into the West Basin of Bobs Lake (upstream of the Bobs Lake Rd. crossing)(see Section 2.2 of this report).

Fish Creek instream biological water quality conditions range from Poor to Good at the County Road 38 inventory location (south of Parham)(see Section 3.3.1 of this report).

8.0 Elbow Lake Catchment: Actions/Opportunities

Developed by the Elbow Lake (Parham) Association and its partners, the Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan (2012) provides information on many aspects of the lake environment, as well as actions to maintain and improve the long-term health of the lake. The following list includes some of those identified actions that have implications for the land and water resources of the lake ecosystem. Specific actions noted by the Elbow Lake community are indicated by an asterisk.

Elbow Lake and Catchment Health

Development

Work with approval authorities (Central Frontenac Township, Frontenac County, Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington Health Unit, Mississippi Rideau Septic System Office and RVCA) and waterfront property owners (including the Duncan Lake community and Elbow Lake Association) to consistently implement current land use planning and development policies for water quality and shoreline protection adjacent to Duncan Lake, Elbow Lake, Fish Creek and headwater streams in the catchment (i.e., a minimum 30 metre development setback from water).

Explore ways and means to more effectively enforce and implement conditions of land-use planning and development approval to achieve net environmental gains (particularly with respect to rehabilitating or protecting naturally vegetated shorelines and water quality).

Encourage Committee of Adjustment to take advantage of technical and environmental information and recommendations forthcoming from planning and environmental professionals.

Municipalities in the Tay Watershed are encouraged to strengthen natural heritage and water resources official plan policies and zoning provisions (pertaining to water setbacks, frontage and naturalized shorelines and wetland protection) where deemed appropriate.

Work with Central Frontenac Township, Frontenac County and agencies to ensure that development approvals around lakes and along watercourses take into consideration the protection of fish habitat (including the near-shore nursery and spawning habitat).

Municipal and agency planners together with development proponents are to use the 2014 Site Evaluation Guidelines to inform decision-making about the application of development setbacks on lots with shallow soils/bedrock, steep slopes and sparse vegetation cover along with the use of the appropriate, development related, best management practices.

Utilize RVCA subwatershed and catchment reports to help develop/revise official plan policies to protect surface water resources and the natural environment (including woodlands, wetlands and shoreline cover).

Establish RVCA regulation limits around the 93 percent (1434 ha.) of wetlands in the catchment that are unevaluated. Doing this will help protect landowners from natural hazards including mitigating surface water flow by storing water during periods of peak flow (such as spring snowmelt and heavy rainfall events) and releasing water during periods of low flow (this mitigation of water flow reduces flood damage), as well as contributing to the stabilization of shorelines and to the reduction of soil erosion damage through water flow mitigation and plant soil binding/retention.

Shorelines

Continue to explore ways and means to increase individual Elbow Lake property owner acquisition of the 2013 Love Your Lake Program waterfront assessment reports and participation in the implementation of individual property recommendations.*

Take advantage of the RVCA Shoreline Naturalization Program to re-naturalize altered creek, lake and stream shoreline identified in this report as “Unnatural Riparian Land Cover". Given the undeveloped nature of most of the catchment, consider concentrating stewardship efforts on Elbow Lake waterfront properties shown in orange on the Riparian Land Cover map (see Figure 65 in Section 4.4 in this report). Other stewardship opportunities in the catchment may be determined based on septic system inspections and surface water quality monitoring results. Use the Elbow Lake coordinator to help disseminate information about the program.*

Promote the use of bioengineering methods (using native shrub/tree planting, fascines, live stakes) as a shoreline erosion mitigation measure as well as a cost effective alternative to shoreline hardening (with rip rap, armour stone, gabion baskets, walls).

Educate landowners about the value and importance of natural shorelines and property best management practices with respect to shoreline use and development, septic system installation and maintenance and shoreline vegetation retention and enhancement (Central Frontenac Township, Elbow Lake Association, Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington Health Unit, Frontenac County, Mississippi Rideau Septic System Office and RVCA).

Water Quality

Work with the Township of Central Frontenac to establish a septic re-inspection program (mandatory/voluntary) on Elbow Lake.*

Provide advice to the Elbow Lake Association about the physical state of the large beaver dam along the south shore of Elbow Lake and its potential impact to lake water quality, if it were to fail.*

Consider further investigation of the 1) Very Poor to Poor surface chemistry water quality rating on Elbow Lake, 2) Poor to Good surface chemistry water quality rating in Fish Creek and Poor to Good instream biological water quality rating in Fish Creek as part of a review of RVCA's Watershed Watch, Baseline and Benthic Invertebrate surface water quality monitoring.

Offer funding provided by the RVCA Rural Clean Water Program to landowners with potential projects that could improve water quality on Elbow Lake and its tributaries including Fish Creek (e.g., livestock fencing, septic system repair/replacement and streambank erosion control/stabilisation).

Educate waterfront property owners about septic system care and maintenance by providing information about sewage system maintenance (i.e., when to pump out septic systems and holding talks) through initiatives such as the Septic Savvy Workshop and services provided by the Mississippi Rideau Septic System Office.

Reduce pollutant loading to Elbow Lake through education about the application of shoreline, stormwater and agricultural best management practices; also consider using low impact development (LID) methods to improve the quality and reduce the amount of stormwater runoff directly reaching the lake ecosystem. This will be particularly beneficial in areas with extensive impervious surfaces (i.e., asphalt, concrete, buildings, and severely compacted soils) or on sensitive waterfront properties (with steep slopes/banks, shallow/impermeable soils).

Elbow Lake and Catchment Habitat

Aquatic Habitat/Fisheries/Wildlife

Consider a follow-up survey of the aquatic vegetation in Elbow Lake to determine if the anecdotal evidence of the level of aquatic vegetation in the lake has changed substantially since the 2010 Frontenac Stewardship Council survey.*

Explore the feasibility of control measures for Eurasian water milfoil, such as use of the native water milfoil weevil.*

Discuss alternatives to the dynamiting of the beaver dam along the west side of Elbow Lake undertaken by the Canadian Pacific Railway, to alleviate the Elbow Lake Association's concerns about its impact on the lake ecosystem including water quality.*

Consider a second fish spawning enhancement project on Elbow Lake, if the results of the 2017 MNR fish community survey suggest the need to do so. This action would address a number of goals listed in the Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan (2012).*

Consider a Bioblitz to learn more about the flora and fauna in the area, which could be organised by the Elbow Lake Association.This endeavour would have the added benefit of bringing residents together to exchange ideas and ultimately increase participation in other projects such as the naturalization of shorelines.*

Educate waterfront property owners about: 1) fish habitat requirements, spawning timing and near-shore and in-water activities that can disturb or destroy fish habitat and spawning sites 2) the causes of excessive algae and aquatic vegetation growth (see the RVCA publication entitled Algae and Aquatic Plant Educational Manual) and 3) healthy lake ecosystems and associated water level fluctuations in a natural environment.

Elbow Lake Association Leadership

Lake Planning

Continue to tackle projects and issues related to the 2012 Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan's five main objectives: 1) maintain and improve water quality 2) maintain and improve wildlife and fish habitat 3) preserve peace and tranquility 4) emphasize safety in the pursuit of recreational opportunities and 5) strengthen a sense of community.*

Use the information contained in the Tay River Subwatershed Report 2017 and Elbow Lake Catchment Report 2017 to assist with implementation of the 2012 Elbow Lake Stewardship Plan.*