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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.


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


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)
Hectares -6 -1 +4 +2
Land Cover Type (2014)
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.


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