50.9 square kilometres; occupies 6.4 percent of the Tay River subwatershed; 1.2 percent of the Rideau Valley watershed.
The Port Elmsley catchment resides predominantly within part of the physiographic region known asthe Smith Falls Limestone Plain, which is a broad flat poorly drained region underlain by thin soils, dolostone and sandstone. A veneer of glacial drift (glacial till, sand etc.) overlies the bedrock.A geologic fault may run across this catchment.
Drummond/North Elmsley Township (50.3 km2; 99.0% of catchment)
Town of Perth (0.5 km2; 1% of catchment)
All watercourses (including headwater streams): 66.6 km.
1.2 Vulnerable Areas
The Mississippi-Rideau Source Water Protection program has mapped the southwestern boundary of the catchment as a Significant Groundwater Recharge Area and all of the catchment as a Highly Vulnerable Aquifer. There are no Well-Head Protection Areas in the catchment.
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 Port Elmsley catchment.
1.3 Conditions at a Glance
Fish Community/Thermal Regime
Warm and cool water recreational and baitfish fishery with 19 species observed in the Tay River during 2017.
Headwater Drainage Features
Classified as wetland and channelized features with historical modifications in the form of straightening.
Tay River:Low to high habitat complexity was identified for the Tay River in the catchment. Regions with increased habitat complexity were observed throughout most of the reaches of the system. The Tay River has a healthy diversity of plant types and levels throughout most of the surveyed sections. Dissolved oxygen conditions for the Tay River varied along the system for both warm and coolwater species.
Tay River: Benthic invertebrate samples shift in community composition from species that are sensitive to high organic pollution levels in the fall to more tolerant species in the spring.
Over 300 operational private water wells in the Port Elmsley catchment. Groundwater uses are mainly domestic, but also include many monitoring wells and some commercial, livestock and other water supplies.
Wetlands are reported to have covered 45 percent of the Port Elmsley catchment prior to European settlement, as compared to 20 percent (or 10.3 square kilometres) of the area in 2014. This represents a 55 percent (or 12.8 square kilometre) loss of historic wetland cover. Fifty-two percent of the remaining wetlands are regulated leaving 48 percent (or 4.8 square kilometers) unregulated.
1.4 Catchment Care
Development along the Tay River (Town of Perth eastern boundary to Port Elmsley) and in, and adjacent to, the Tay Marsh Provincially Significant Wetland and the Westport-Nelson Provincially Significant Wetland Complex in the catchment is subject to Ontario Regulation 174-06 (entitled “Development, Interference with Wetlands and Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses”) that protects landowners and their property from natural hazards (i.e., flooding, fluctuating water table, unstable soils) along with the hydrologic function of the wetland.
One Environmental Compliance Approval was sought for a municipal waste management site in the catchment.
No Permits To Take Water (PTTW) are active in the catchment.
Chemical surface (in-stream/lake) water quality collection by the RVCA since 2006 (see Section 2).
Benthic invertebrate (aquatic insect) surface (in-stream) water quality collection in the Tay River by the RVCA since 2003 (see Section 3.3.1).
Fish survey and stream characterization survey by the RVCA on the Tay River in 2017 included taking measurements and recording observations on instream habitat, bank stability, other attributes and preparing a temperature profile (see Section 3).
Nineteen drainage feature assessments were conducted by the RVCA in 2017 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).
Classification of Port Elmsley 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).
Twenty-nine stewardship projects were completed by landowners with assistance from the RVCA (see Section 5).
2.0 Port Elmsley Catchment: Water Quality Conditions
Surface water quality conditions in the Glen Tay catchment are monitored by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) Baseline Water Quality Monitoring Program.The baseline water quality program focuses on streams; data is collected for 22 parameters including nutrients (total phosphorus and total Kjeldahl nitrogen), 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 Water quality monitoring sites on the Tay River in the Port Elmsley Catchment
2.1 Tay River: Water Quality Rating
There are two monitored water quality sites in Port Elmsely Catchment, both of which are on the main channel of the Tay River. The RVCA's water quality rating at both sites (TAY-11 and TAY-01) was reported as "Good" (Table 1) as determined by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Water Quality Index. "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.
The scores at these sites are largely influenced by few high nutrient concentrations and bacterial counts. For more information on the CCME WQI, please see the Tay River Subwatershed Report.
Table 1 Water Quality Index ratings for the Tay River-Port Elmsley Catchment
Tay River upstream of Tay Marsh
Tay River at Port Elmsley
Table 2 Water Quality Index ratings and corresponding index scores (RVCA terminology, original WQI category names in brackets)
Very Good (Excellent)
Very Poor (Poor)
2.1.1 Tay River: 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 secondary indicators of nutrient loading. RVCA uses a guideline of 0.500 mg/l to assess TKN.
Tables 3 and 4 summarize average nutrient concentrations at monitored sites within the Port Elmsley catchment and show the proportion of results that meet the guidelines.
Table 3 Summary of total phosphorus results for the Tay River-Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017.
Total Phosphorus 2006-2017
Table 4 Summary of total Kjeldahl nitrogen results for the Tay River-Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017. Highlighted values indicate average concentrations exceed the guideline
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen 2006-2017
Monitoring Site TAY-11
Site TAY-11 is the most upstream site on the main stem of the Tay River monitored in this catchment; it is in the Perth Wildlife Reserve downstream of the Tay Lagoons and upstream of the Tay Marsh. The majority of samples (90 percent)at this site were below the TP guideline from 2006-2017 (Figures 3 and 4). The average TP concentration in the at this site was 0.023 mg/l (Table 3). Figure 3 shows that monthly average concentrations highest from April to July, with a general reduction in concentrations from August to November. The average concentrations exceeded the guideline in October, this is due to a single elevated sample in October 2007 (Figure 4) . Overall a decrease was observed in TP concentrations through the 2006-2017 period2.
TKN concentrations show that the bulk of results were elevated, only 36 percent of samples were below the guideline (Figure 6, Table 4). The average concentration over the 2006-2017 period was 0.590 mg/l (Table 4); monthly averages are comparable across the sampling seasons with the lowest concentrations observed in August and September (Figure 5). As with the TP data, average TKN concentrations are very high in October (Figure 5) due to the influence of an elevated sample in October 2007. There was no significant trend found in TKN results at this site.
Monitoring Site TAY-01
Site TAY-01 is downstream of TAY-11 and is the last monitored site before the Tay River flows into Lower Rideau Lake. TP results were fairly low, the average concentrations was 0.021 and 92 percent of samples were below the guideline (Table 3, Figure 4). Monthly TP concentrations followed a similar pattern to upstream site TAY-11, and were consistently below the guideline (Figure 3). A declining trend in TP concentrations was also observed in the data from this site.
The majority of TKN results exceeded the guideline (Figure 5 and 6), 40 percent of samples were below 0.500 mg/l (TKN Guideline) with an average concentration of 0.534 mg/l (Table 4). Average monthly concentrations were comparable and also followed a similar pattern to TAY-09 (Figure 5), August and September were the only months that had average concentrations above the guideline. No significant trend was observed in the 2006-2017 TKN dataset.
Figure 3Average monthly total phosphorous concentrations in the Port Elmsly catchment, 2006-2017
Figure 4Distribution of total phosphorous concentrations in thePort Elmsley catchment, 2006-201
Figure 5 Average monthly total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in the Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017
Figure 6 Distribution of total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations in thePort Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017
Summary of Tay River Nutrients
The data collected in this catchment provides evidence that nutrient enrichment is not a significant concern in this reach of the Tay River. TP and TKN concentrations are comparable between the two sites. The majority of TP samples are below guidelines and declining trend in TP concentrations was noted at both sites. Average TKN concentrations were just above the guideline and the majority of samples did exceed 0.500 mg/l. The elevated TKN can likely be attributed the significant wetland area in this catchment. Wetlands hold a lot of nitrogen in their soils and can strongly influence the concentrations to overlying waters. This reduction in TP concentrations should be taken as a positive sign that cumulative changes on the landscape have benefited water quality conditions as high nutrient concentrations can help stimulate the growth of algae blooms and other aquatic vegetation in a waterbody and deplete oxygen levels as the vegetation dies off. It is important to continue best management practices such as minimizing storm water runoff, enhanced shoreline buffers, minimizing/discontinuing the use of fertilizers and restricting livestock access in upstream agricultural areas can help to prevent nutrient pollution and to continue to protect and enhance water quality conditions within the Tay River and Lower Rideau Lake.
2.1.2 Tay River: E. 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.E. colicounts greater than this guideline indicate that bacterial contamination may be a problem within a waterbody.
Table 5 summarizes the geometric meanfor the monitored sites within the Port Elmsley catchment and shows the proportion of samples that meet theE. coliguideline of 100 CFU/100 ml. The results of the geometric mean with respect to the guideline are shown in Figures 7 and 8 respectively.
Table 5 Summary of E. coli results for the Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017
E. coli 2006-2017
Geometric Mean (CFU/100ml)
Monitoring Site TAY-11
E. colicounts at site TAY-11 indicate little concern with regard to bacterial contamination. Sixty-nine percent of samples were below the guideline (Figures 7-8) and the count at the geometric mean was 53 CFU/100ml (Table 5). MonthlyE. colicounts showed that the geometric mean was highest during the warmer months though all results were below the guideline; warm water temperature and low flow conditions are more favourable for bacterial growth. (Figure 7). No trend was noted inE. colicounts over the 2006-2017 period.
Monitoring Site TAY-01
ElevatedE. colicounts at site downstream site TAY-05 were also minimal. Sixty-eight percent of samples were below the guideline (Figure 8) from 2006-2017. The count at the geometric mean was 53 CFU/100ml (Table 5) and well below the guideline. As with site TAY-11, counts were highest during the summer months. The count at the geometric mean exceeded the guideline in July (Figure 7), this was strongly influenced by a single elevated sample in July 2017 (Figure 8). There was no significant trend in E. coli data over the 2006-2017 period.
Figure 7Geometric mean of E. coli results in the Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017
Figure 8Distribution of E. coli counts in the Port Elmsley catchment, 2006-2017.
Summary of Tay River Bacterial Contamination
Bacterial contamination does not appear to be a significant concern in this reach of the Tay River. The majority of samples do not exceed the guideline and counts at the geometric mean are well below the guideline of 100 CFU/100ml. Best management practices such as enhancing shoreline buffers, limiting livestock access and minimizing runoff in both agricultural and developed areas can help to protect this reach of the Tay River into the future.
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.
2Trends in the data were assessed using the Mann-Kendall trend test and Sens slope statistic.
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.
The Stream Characterization Program evaluated 6.0 km of the Tay River in 2017 in the Port Elmsley catchment. A total of 60 stream survey assessments were completed in July. The Tay River watershed experienced high water levels along the Tay River and its tributaries in 2017. After moving from two years of drought conditions in 2015 and 2016 heavy rains throughout the year made 2017 the wettest year in recorded history. Flows out of Perth and downstream to Lower Rideau Lake, as with the rest of the Tay River watershed remained relatively high through 2017 in reaction to the wet weather. Some property flooding occurred between Beveridges Dam and Port Elsmley with the highest flows in May. No residential flooding was reported but shoreline erosion was an issue.
High flows along the Tay River at the Port Elmsley Road in the spring of 2017
3.1 Tay River Overbank Zone
3.1.1 Riparian Buffer 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 9 demonstrates the buffer conditions of the left and right banks separately. The Tay River had a buffer of greater than30 meters along 88 percent of the left bank and 66 percent of the right bank.
Figure 9 Riparian Buffer Evaluation along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 10). The riparian buffer zone along the Tay River was found to be dominated by forest, scrubland, wetland and meadow conditions.
Figure 10 Riparian buffer alterations along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
3.1.3 Adjacent Land Use
The RVCA’s Stream Characterization Program identifies eight different land uses along the Tay River (Figure 11). 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 98 percent; scrubland was found along 75 percent of the surveyed sections, wetland habitat was observed along 62 percent of the system and 23 percent meadow habitat was present along the Tay River. The remaining land use consisted of residential, pasture, recreational and infrastructure in the form of road crossings.
Figure 11 Land Use along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
3.2 Tay River 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 Tay River had no erosion observed along the majority of surveyed sections with a few sections having low to moderate levels of erosion (Figure 12).
Figure 12 Erosion levels along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 13 shows that the Tay River had no observed undercut banks along the majority of the system, however there were several sections in the upper reaches with high to moderate levels of undercut banks.
Figure 13 Undercut stream banks along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 14 shows low levels of stream shading along the majority of the Tay River.
Figure 14 Stream shading along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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.
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
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 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
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 15 shows that the majority of the Tay River had low levels of instream wood structure along the system. There were several stream survey sections which were characterized as having moderate levels of instream wood structure in the form of branches and trees.
Figure 15 Instream wood structure along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 branches and trees provide a food source, nutrients and shade which helps to moderate instream water temperatures. Figure 16 shows the system is somewhat variable with no overhanging branches and trees where the river is wide and is dominated by wetland habitat to areas that have moderate levels of overhanging wood structure along the Tay River.
Figure 16 Overhanging wood structure along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 17 shows twenty seven percent of the Tay River remains “unaltered” with no anthropogenic alterations. Sixty eight percent of the Tay River was classified as natural with minor anthropogenic changes. Five percent of sections were considered altered; while no sections were classified as highly altered. The alterations along the Tay River were in the form of shoreline modifications and road crossings.
Figure 17 Anthropogenic alterations along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
3.3 Tay River 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 Port Elmsley Road 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.
OBBN sample location at the Port Elmsley Road
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 Port Elmsley - Tay River catchment at the Port Elmsley Road sample location is summarized by year. “Good” to “Poor” water quality conditions were observed at the Tay River sample location (Figure 18) using a grading scheme developed by Conservation Authorities in Ontario for benthic invertebrates.
Figure 18 Hilsenhoff Family Biotic Index at the Port Elmsley Road sample location
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 Port Elmsley Road location is reported to have “Good” family richness (Figure 19).
Figure 19 Family Richness at the Port Elmsley Road sample location
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. There appears to be a difference in community composition between the spring and fall results for the Port Elmsley Road site. The community structure is typically dominated by species that are sensitive to poor water quality conditions in the fall, while the spring results have more of a mixed community of species that are more tolerant to poorer water quality conditions. As a result, the EPT indicates that the Port Elmsley - Tay River sample location is reported to have “Good” to “Fair” water quality (Figure 20) during the reporting periods.
Figure 20 EPT on the Tay River at the Port Elmsley Road sample location
Overall the Tay River site in the Port Elmsley catchment from a benthic invertebrate perspective is considered “Fair” as the samples shift in community composition from species that are sensitive to high organic pollution levels in the fall to more tolerant species in the spring.
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 wood structure.
No to high habitat complexity was identified for the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment (Figure 21). Regions with increased habitat complexity were observed throughout most of the reaches of the Tay River within the catchment.
Figure 21 Habitat complexity along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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. Substrate conditions were highly diverse along the Tay River (Figure 22) with all substrate types being recorded at various locations along the system. Figure 23 shows the dominant substrate type observed for each section surveyed along the Tay River.
Figure 22 Instream substrate along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
Figure 23 shows the dominant substrate type along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 24 shows that the Tay River is highly variable; 98 percent of sections recorded runs, 72 percent pools and 28 percent riffles. Figure 25 shows the riffle habitat areas were observed primarily in the lower reach of the Tay River.
Figure 24 Instream morphology along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
Figure 25 Instream riffle habitat along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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. Submerged plants were observed in 90 percent of sections, narrow leaved emergents in 87 percent of sections, robust emergents present in 62 percent of the survey sections, 77 percent of sections contained algae, 50 percent floating plants, 20 percent free floating, 60 percent broad leaved emergents and 77 percent of sections had areas with no instream vegetation and were primarily located in areas with bedrock substrate. Figure 26 depicts the plant community structure for the Tay River. Figure 27 shows the dominant vegetation type observed for each section surveyed along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 26 Vegetation type along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
Figure 27 Dominant vegetation type along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 28 demonstrates that the Tay River had normal to common levels of vegetation recorded at 67 and 63 percent of stream surveys. Extensive levels of vegetation were observed in 17 percent of the surveyed sections and were consistent with areas dominated by the invasive aquatic plant known as European frogbit; while eighteen percent of sections had no vegetation in areas.
Figure 28 Instream vegetation abundance along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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. Seventy five percent of the sections surveyed along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment had invasive species. The invasive species observed were European frogbit, Eurasian milfoil, banded mystery snail, purple loosestrife, honeysuckle, wild parsnip, Manitoba maple, curly leafed pondweed and common/glossy buckthorn. 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 29).
Figure 29 Invasive species abundance along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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.
18.104.22.168 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 30 shows that the dissolved oxygen in Tay River supports warmwater and coolwater biota along the system. The average dissolved oxygen level observed within Port Elmsley catchment was 7.7mg/L which meets the recommended level for warm and cool water biota.
Figure 30 Dissolved oxygen ranges along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 Tay River was 202.5 µs/cm. Figure 31 shows the conductivity readings for the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 31 Specific conductivity ranges in the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 the Tay River were 7.64 thereby meeting the provincial standard (Figure 32).
Figure 32 pH ranges along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
22.214.171.124 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:
Dissolved oxygen conditions for the Tay River varied along the system for both warm and coolwater species (Figure 33). Certain sections in the lower reach were above the guideline to support coldwater biota.
Figure 33 A bivariate assessment of dissolved oxygen concentration (mg/L) and saturation (%) in the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
126.96.36.199 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 in the middle reaches of the Tay River, however there were moderately elevated areas in the upper and lower reaches (Figure 34).
Figure 34 Relative specific conductivity levels along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 35 shows where the thermal sampling sites were located on the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment. Analysis of the data collected indicates that the Tay River is classified as a warm water system (Figure 36).
Figure 35 Temperature logger locations along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
Figure 36 Temperature logger data for the sites along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment
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
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 37 shows areas where one or more of the above groundwater indicators were observed during stream surveys and headwater assessments.
Figure 37 Groundwater indicators observed in the Port Elmsley catchment
3.3.11 Fish Community
The Tay River Port Elmsley catchment is classified as a mixed community of warm and cool water recreational and baitfish fishery with 19 species observed. Figure 38 shows the historical and 2017 fish sampling locations in the catchment.
Figure 38 Tay River Port Elmsley catchment fish community
Table 6 lists the species observed in the watershed historically and during the 2017 sampling effort.
Table 6 Fish species observed in the Port Elmsley catchment
1 to 10 (22)
Fish being identified, weighed and measured while sampling in the Port Elmsley catchment
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 39 shows that Port Elmsley catchment had one dam on the Tay River.
Figure 39 Migratory obstructions in the Port Elmsley catchment
The Beveridges Dam as seen by an RVCA field crew while conducting the 2017 stream survey of the Tay River
3.4 Headwater Drainage Feature Assessment
3.4.1 Headwaters Sampling Locations
The RVCA Stream Characterization program assessed Headwater Drainage Features for the Port Elmsley 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 2017 the program sampled 19 sites at road crossings in the Port Elmsley catchment area (Figure 40).
Figure 40 Location of the headwater sampling sites in the Port Elmsley 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 Port Elmsley catchment are highly variable features. Figure 41 shows the feature type of the primary feature at the sampling locations.
Figure 41 Headwater feature types in the Port Elmsley 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 42 shows the observed flow condition at the sampling locations in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 42 Headwater feature flow conditions in the Port Elmsley catchment
A spring photo of the headwater sample site in the Port Elmsley catchment located on Drummond Concession 2
A summer photo of the headwater sample site in the Port Elmsley catchment located on Drummond Concession 2
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 Port Elmsley catchment area had a majority of features with no channel modifications observed, six sites as having been historically dredged/channelized and one location had mixed modifications. Figure 43 shows the channel modifications observed at the sampling locations for Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 43 Headwater feature channel modifications in the Port Elmsley 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 44 depicts the dominant vegetation observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 44 Headwater feature vegetation types in the Port Elmsley 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 45 depicts the type of riparian vegetation observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 45 Headwater feature riparian vegetation types in the Port Elmsley 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 Port Elmsley - Tay River catchment area. Figure 46 depicts the degree of sediment deposition observed at the sampled headwater sites in the Port Elmsley catchment. Sediment deposition conditions ranged from no sediment deposition to substantial.
Figure 46 Headwater feature sediment deposition in the Port Elmsley 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 47 shows the feature roughness conditions at the sampling locations in the Port Elmsley catchment were highly variable ranging from minimal to extreme.
Figure 47 Headwater feature roughness in the Port Elmsley catchment
Land cover and any change in coverage that has occurred over a six year period is summarized for the Port Elmsley 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 Port Elmsley Catchment Change
As shown in Table 7 and Figure 1, the dominant land cover type in 2014 is crop and pastureland.
Table 7 Land cover in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Change - 2008 to 2014
Crop and Pasture
* Does not include treed swamps ** Includes treed swamps
From 2008 to 2014, there was an overall change of 30 hectares (from one land cover class to another). Most of the change in the Port Elmsley catchment is a result of crop and pastureland being converted to settlement and reverting to woodland (Figure 48).
Figure 48 Land cover change in the Port Elmsley catchment (2014)
Table 8 provides a detailed breakdown of all land cover change that has taken place in the Port Elmsley catchment between 2008 and 2014.
Table 8 Land cover change in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 to 2014)
Change - 2008 to 2014
Crop and Pasture to Settlement
Crop and Pasture to Woodland
Woodland to Settlement
Meadow-Thicket to Settlement
Woodland to Crop and Pasture
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 49, 20 percent of the Port Elmsley catchment contains 937 hectares of upland forest and 81 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.
Figure 49 Woodland cover and forest interior in the Port Elmsley 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 Port Elmsley catchment (in 2014), one hundred and one (48 percent) of the 209 woodland patches are very small, being less than one hectare in size. Another 94 (45 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 14 (seven percent of) woodland patches range between 22 and 129 hectares in size. Thirteen 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, one (less than one percent) of the 209 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. No patch tops 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 9 presents a comparison of woodland patch size in 2008 and 2014 along with any changes that have occurred over that time. A decrease (of one hectare) has been observed in the overall woodland patch area between the two reporting periods with most change occurring in the 20 to 50 woodland patch size class range. Seven new woodland patches have been created as a result of the forest loss/gain portrayed in Figure 49, some of which has resulted in an increase in forest fragmentation across the catchment.
Table 9 Woodland patches in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 and 2014)
Woodland Patch Size Range (ha)
2008 to 2014
Less than 1
1 to 20
20 to 50
50 to 100
100 to 200
*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 Port Elmsley catchment (in 2014), the 209 woodland patches contain 20 forest interior patches (Figure 49) that occupy seven percent (656 ha.) of the catchment land area (which is greater than the three percent of interior forest in the Jock 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 (19) have less than 10 hectares of interior forest, 11 of which have small areas of interior forest habitat less than one hectare in size. The remaining patch contains 127 hectares of interior forest. Between 2008 and 2014, there has been no change in the number and area of woodland patches containing interior habitat (Table 10).
Table 10 Woodland interior in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 and 2014)
Woodland Interior Habitat Size Range (ha)
2008 to 2014
Less than 1
1 to 10
10 to 30
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.
Figure 50 Wetland cover in the Port Elmsley catchment (Historic to 2014)
This decline in wetland cover is also evident in the Port Elmsley catchment (as seen in Figure 50 and summarized in Table 11), where wetland was reported to cover 45 percent of the area prior to settlement, as compared to 20 percent in 2014. This represents a 55 percent loss of historic wetland cover. 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 11 Wetland cover in the Port Elmsley catchment (Historic to 2014)
Change - Historic to 2014
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 51 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, both sides of the shoreline of the Tay River and its tributaries in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 51 Natural and other riparian land cover in the Port Elmsley catchment (2014)
This analysis shows that the riparian zone in the Port Elmsley catchment is composed of crop and pastureland (42 percent), wetland (34 percent), woodland (14 percent), settlement (four percent), meadow-thicket (four percent) and transportation routes (two percent). Along the many watercourses (including headwater streams) flowing into the Tay River in the catchment, the riparian buffer is composed of crop and pastureland (55 percent), wetland (22 percent), woodland (14 percent), meadow-thicket (four percent), settlement areas (three percent) and transportation routes (two percent). Along the Tay River itself, the riparian zone is composed of wetland (72 percent), woodland (14 percent), crop and pastureland (six percent), meadow-thicket (four percent) and settlement (four percent).
Additional statistics for the Port Elmsley catchment are presented in Tables 12, 13 and 14 and show that there has been very little change in shoreline cover from 2008 to 2014.
Table 12 Riparian land cover in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover
Change - 2008 to 2014
Crop and Pasture
Table 13 Riparian land cover along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
Riparian Land Cover
Change - 2008 to 2014
Crop and Pasture
Table 14 Riparian land cover along streams in the Port Elmsley catchment (2008 vs. 2014)
5.0 Port Elmsley 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 52 shows the location of all stewardship projects completed in the Port Elmsley catchment.
Figure 52 Stewardship site locations in the Port Elmsley 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 Port Elmsley catchment from 2011 to 2016, two well decommissionings, one septic system repair, one well upgrade, one education initiative and one livestock fencing project were completed; prior to this, four livestock fencing projects, three septic system repairs, three well upgrades, two well decommissionings and one well replacement had been completed.
When combined, these projects are keeping 60.49 kilograms of Phosphorus out of our lakes, rivers and streams every year. Total value of all 19 projects is $94,803 with $39,177 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.
Through the RVCA's Trees for Tomorrow Program (and its predecessors), 18,700 trees were planted at five sites from 2011 to 2016; prior to this, 25,830 trees were planted at five sites. In total, 44,530 trees have been planted resulting in the reforestation of 24 hectares. Total project value of all ten projects in the Port Elmsley catchment is $72,353 with $50,588 of that amount coming from fundraising sources. For more information about the Program and landowner eligibility, please see the following: Tree Planting in the Rideau Valley Watershed and Trees for Tomorrow.
An additional 152 butternut trees were planted through the RVCA Butternut Recovery Program in the Port Elmsley catchment, as part of efforts to introduce healthy seedlings from tolerant butternuts into various locations across Eastern Ontario.
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.
As of the end of 2016, no shoreline projects had been carried out in the Port Elmsley catchment. Landowners may wish to take advantage of the RVCA's Shoreline Naturalization Programto assist them with the naturalization of their shorelines to see the benefits noted above (and more).
5.4 Valley, Stream, Wetland and Hazard Lands
The Otty Lake catchment covers 50.9 square kilometres with 12.8 square kilometres (or 25.1 percent) of the drainage area being within the regulation limit of Ontario Regulation 174/06 (Figure 53), giving protection to wetland areas and river or stream valleys that are affected by flooding and erosion hazards.
Wetlands occupy 10 square kilometres (or 19.6 percent) of the catchment. Of these wetlands, six square kilometres (or 60 percent) are designated as provincially significant and included within the RVCA regulation limit. This leaves the remaining four square kilometres (or 40 percent) of wetlands in the catchment outside the regulated area limit.
Of the 66.6 kilometres of stream in the catchment, regulation limit mapping has been plotted along 26 kilometers of streams (representing 39 percent of all streams in the catchment). Some of these regulated streams (7.8 km) flow through regulated wetlands; the remaining 18.2 kilometres of regulated streams are located outside of those wetlands. Plotting of the regulation limit on the remaining 40.6 kilometres (or 61 percent) of streams requires identification of flood and erosion hazards and valley systems.
Within those areas of the Port Elmsley 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 provided through the “alteration to waterways” provision of the regulation.
Figure 53 Regulated natural features and hazards in the Port Elmsley catchment
5.5 Vulnerable Drinking Water Areas
The Mississippi-Rideau Source Water Protection Program has mapped the southwestern boundary of the Port Elmsley 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 Regionwebsite.
6.0 Port Elmsley Catchment: Accomplishments/Activities
Six kilometres of the Tay River in the catchment has been surveyed and 19 headwaters sites were sampled by the RVCA using the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol.
The report "Fish Habitat of the Tay River Watershed: Existing Conditions and Opportunities for Enhancement" was prepared in 2002 by MNR, RVCA, Parks Canada and DFO. A number of specific fish habitat enhancement projects are identified in it to improve the fishery along the Tay River (see pp.93-100).
44,530 trees have been planted at ten sites in the Glen Tay catchment by the RVCA Private Land Forestry Program, resulting in the reforestation of 24 hectares.
Two stream monitoring sites on the Tay River in the catchment are sampled yearly by the RVCA for 22 parameters at each location, six times a year, to assess surface chemistry water quality conditions.
One Ontario Benthic Biomonitoring Network site on the Tay River in the catchment is sampled by the RVCA in the spring and fall of each year with three replicates, to assess instream biological water quality conditions.
Nineteen Clean Water projects were completed by the RVCA Rural Clean Water Program.
Waterway Planning and Management
The Tay Watershed Management Plan (2002) brought together a diverse group of watershed stakeholders to exchange information and opinions on the challenges facing the watershed. This forum focused the community on the need for managing the Tay Watershed, requiring positive cooperation amongst a range of stakeholders and helped develop a foundation of data and information on the watershed and resources against which later developments and trends are being measured and decisions are being made.
The Plan also led to the formation of the Friends of the Tay Watershed Association, who have been instrumental in implementing 20 of 24 management plan recommendations. In the opinion of the Association, one of the most significant measures of success for the water protection activities carried out in the Tay watershed is that there has never been a serious environmental pollution incident that threatened the area’s drinking water or its recreational waterbodies. To this day, the Friends of the Tay Watershed remain committed to preserving and enhancing the health of the Tay River watershed through their work.
Headwater and tributary streams in the Port Elmsley catchment have 40 percent of the total length of their shoreline composed of natural vegetation. This is below the 75 percent target that is recommended by experts for the catchment’s watercourses, 30 metres back from both sides of a stream, river or lake (see Section 4.4 of this report for more information).
Thirteen of 19 sampled headwater stream sites have been modified (10 are channelized, 3 are ditched; see Section 3.4.2 of this report for more information).
Land cover has changed across the catchment (2008 to 2014) largely as a result of an increase in the area of settlement (23 ha.) and wetland (12 ha.) and loss of crop and pastureland (20 ha.) and woodland (12 ha.)(see Section 4.1 of this report for more information).
Wetlands have declined by fifty-five percent since European pre-settlement and now cover 20 percent (1033 ha.) of the catchment (in 2014). Forty-seven percent (482 ha.) of these wetlands remain unevaluated/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 for more information).
Woodlands cover 20 percent of the catchment. This is below the 30 percent of forest cover that is identified as the minimum threshold for sustaining forest birds and other woodland dependent species (see Section 4.2 of this report for more information).
The Tay River through the Village of Port Elmsley has a history of ice damming that has resulted in overland flow through the Pointview subdivision, between the Tay River and Lower Rideau Lake. (GM)
Stream flows (high, low and base) are unrecorded along this reach of the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchment. (FA)
Surface chemistry water quality rating along the Tay River in the Port Elmsley catchmentisGood at the Tay Marsh and Village of Port Elmsley monitoring sites. No apparent water quality concerns are reported for this reach of the Tay River (see Section 2.1 of this report for more information).
Instream biological water quality condition in the Tay Riveris Fair at the Port Elmsley Road crossing. Samples shift from benthic invertebrate species that are sensitive to high organic pollution levels in the fall to species that are more tolerant of those high levels in the spring (see Section 3.3.1 of this report for more information).
The Town of Perth wastewater treatment facility is located on the south side of the Tay River, adjacent to the Tay Marsh. The outflow from the Perth sewage lagoons has impacted water downstream for decades. Outflow quality has, on the average, been within provincial limits, but inevitably has had an impact on the Tay Marsh and is one of (many) sources encouraging exzcessive vegetation growth in the wetland, which damages its fish and wildlife habitat.* As such, there is a need to better understand the ongoing, potential impact of the sewage lagoon operation on the water quality of the Tay River and Tay Marsh. (GM - Perth; SMN)
In response to concerns raised about the impact of the Town of Perth wastewater treatment facility on the Tay River and Tay Marsh, the Town has taken action over the years to reduce its effect on surface water quality in the system, which, from cursory observation has been beneficial, and more recently enhanced with an innovative phosphorus reduction system.*
Educate waterfront property owners about fish habitat requirements, spawning timing and near-shore and in-water activities that can disturb or destroy fish habitat and spawning sites.
Work with various partners, including Drummond/North Elmsley Township, landowners and the Friends of the Tay Watershed Association on fish habitat enhancement projects in the Tay River watershed, building off of new knowledge and the recommendations as described in the report "Fish Habitat of the Tay River Watershed: Existing Conditions and Opportunities for Enhancement" (2002) prepared by MNR, RVCA, Parks Canada, and DFO.
Work with approval authorities (Drummond/North Elmsley Township, Lanark County, Leeds Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, Mississippi Rideau Septic System Office and RVCA) and landowners to consistently implement current land use planning and development policies for water quality and shoreline protection adjacent to the Tay River and headwater streams in the catchment (i.e., a minimum 30 metre development setback from water).
Explore ways and means to more effectively implement and enforce 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 Committees 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 Drummond/North Elmsley Township, Lanark County and agencies to ensure that development approvals along watercourses take into consideration the protection of fish habitat (including the near-shore nursery and spawning habitat).
Utilise RVCA subwatershed and catchment reports to help develop, revise and implement official plan policies to protect surface water resources and the natural environment (including woodlands, wetlands and shoreline cover).
Undertake a floodplain mapping study between the current study limit at the upper end of the Tay Marsh and Lower Rideau Lake. FA
Consider reforestation of the Port Elmsley catchment to raise the current level of forest cover (at 20 percent) above the recommended 30 percent minimum threshold that is needed to sustain woodland dependent species and woodland biodiversity on the landscape. Reaching this target will also help to improve the capacity of the forests in the catchment to reduce flooding and water-borne soil erosion, store more carbon and dampen the effects of the changing climate. Take advantage of the RVCA Trees for Tomorrow Program to achieve this on idle and/or marginal land.
Establish RVCA regulation limits around the 48 percent (482 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.
Take advantage of the RVCA Shoreline Naturalization Program to re-naturalize altered creek and stream shoreline identified in this report as “Unnatural Riparian Land Cover". Target shoreline restoration at sites shown in orange on the Riparian Land Cover map (see Figure 51 in Section 4.4 of this report). Concentrate stewardship efforts along the tributaries of the Tay River in the catchment, which have 40 percent of the total length of their shoreline composed of natural vegetation (this is below the recommended 30 metre wide, naturally vegetated shoreline buffer target to be aimed for along 75 percent of the length of the catchment’s watercourses). Other stewardship opportunities in the catchment may be determined based on septic system inspections and surface water quality monitoring results.
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 (Drummond/North Elmsley Township, Leeds Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, Mississippi Rideau Septic System Office and RVCA).
Consider further investigation of the Fairinstream biological water quality rating on the Tay River in the catchmentas part of a review of RVCA's 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 (e.g., livestock fencing, septic system repair/replacement and streambank erosion control/stabilisation).
Educate waterfront property owners about septic system care 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 the Tay River in the catchment 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 river ecosystem. This will be particularly beneficial in areas with extensive impervious surfaces (i.e., asphalt, concrete, buildings, and severely compacted soils) or on sensitive shoreline properties (with steep slopes/banks, shallow/impermeable soils).