Everything you ever wanted to know about managing the water level from Tramore Dam to Golden Lake Dam
As you are probably aware, the water level in Golden Lake changes throughout the year in a somewhat predictable way. The water is high in the spring, sometimes high enough to cause flooding at a few low lying cottage properties. In late summer the water level usually drops, sometimes enough that some people can’t get their boats close to shore and have to anchor them far from their cottages. Those of us who live or cottage around the Lake and River would prefer that the water stayed at the same level all year round. Unfortunately, that is not possible, and here is why:
- A very large amount of water must pass through the system in spring as the snow pack melts. Water must be released from Round Lake during this period because its level typically rises faster than Golden Lake. The actual peak water flow of the freshet varies from year to year depending on the size of the snow pack and the speed of melt.
- There is a natural flow restriction between the bridge and the dam near the Village of Golden Lake and the Pikwakanagan Reserve. The river there is narrow, shallow and rocky, which means there is a limit to how much water can pass through, regardless of the adjustments made to the dam. As a result, the level always rises higher than the summer average in Golden Lake for a few weeks in spring.
- Rainfall normally declines in late summer and this, combined with the need for water for power generation downstream during peak electricity demand, means that the level is usually lower than the summer average in the last two weeks of August.
An overview of the topography of the Golden Lake region
This is a screenshot of a topographic map that is available here, which shows the heights of various hills, etc. that influence the flow of snow meltwater from Algonquin Park down into Round Lake and Golden Lake, and therefore affect water levels in the spring.
At GeoHub, you can see a watershed map, which shows the boundaries that define the Golden Lake watershed. You can click here to go to the site and search for Golden Lake, Ontario (there are lakes in Florida and elsewhere with the same name, so be sure to put the province name in there). Here’s a screenshot of our region:
What follows is taken from the Bonnechere River Water Management Plan, as amended October 2019, which states in the preamble that:
“Operating the existing dams with the objective ofproducing electricity, while balancing the needs offish and wildlife, property owners, and a variety ofother users of the Bonnechere River, is a complextask. Adjacent reaches arenot always managed in thesame way because of differences in topography, localland uses and other limitations. However, themanagement of one reach directly impacts the levelsand flows of other reaches upand downstream. Forexample, releasing water fromRound Lake throughthe Tramore Dam can affect neighboring residents,but can also have different implications for theshoreline residents of the Bonnechere River, GoldenLake or Wilber Lake. Conversely, in order to ensureadequate water is passed at the sewage treatmentplants in Eganville and Renfrew, water flows throughstructures upstream may have to be adjusted.”
The later sections of the report discuss a number of issues related to Golden Lake, and the steps that Renfrew Power Generation plans to take to deal with them, such as the fluctation in water levels above a certain height, as well as the natural obstruction near the Golden Lake bridge that makes it difficult for water to exit from the lake as quickly as it does in other lakes. The full report can be downloaded here (PDF), or from the Renfrew Power Generation website, which also has links to more recent amendments.
Reach 7: Golden Lake
The Golden Lake reach begins below Tramore Dam, includes several bays along the river and Golden Lake, and ends at the Golden Lake Dam, near the Algonquin community of Pikwakanagan. As early as 1857,representatives of the Algonquin people petitioned for land grants along Golden Lake, where the current Algonquin community is located (Mackay, 1996). The Algonquins of Ontario rely on the Bonnechere River and its lakes for wild rice, fish and waterfowl, and on its shores for continuing a variety of cultural activities. Golden Lake, one of the largest lakes in Renfrew County, has a severely declining walleye population. A total walleye sport fishing and harvest closure was put in place for 2002-2006 inclusive. There are several sport fish in this reach (see Table 4). Other than the main channel of the Bonnechere, the main streams that feed this flat, post glacial lake are Coles Creek, Brennans Creek, Browns Creek and Cochrane Creek. The Deacon Escarpment (an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) is on the northern shore. Herring and ring-billed gullcolonies flock to islands on Golden Lake. White-tailed deer seek winter shelter in deer yards on the north shore. A Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW), Killaloe Swamp, is located on the western shore of Golden Lake. The village of Killaloe draws drinking water from communal wells. The Killaloe sewage treatment facility discharges effluent into Cole’s Creek.
There is a water control structure at Killaloe Station, owned by the Township of Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards. This structure is not operated and has no impact flows and levels on the main channel of the Bonnechere River. The table below shows the target water levels throughout the year and the reasons for their selection, based on the Golden Lake Operating Regime Information Table, as amended in 2009.
Golden Lake Dam
The existing Golden Lake Dam was constructed in 1932 with an objective of increasing storage capacity to the system for the purpose of power generation.
Golden Lake Dam
The outlet of Golden Lake is a natural (shallow) constriction on the Bonnechere system. This constriction influences operating regimes both upstream and downstream because of the limited ability to release water quickly.
The new operating regime for this reach attempts to address the issues created by the flow constriction through changes to typical spring operations. Water levels in late winter and early spring will be lower than traditional levels.
Typical Operating Line
There is a Typical Operating Line associated with the operating regime for this reach. This line was developed using average historical data and is included with this operating regime to provide an indication for the public of where water levels may be under typical conditions. The Typical Operating Line is not a mandatory or enforceable operating requirement in this water management plan.
Information and issues:
Exposure and Flooding of Shoreline Due to Water Level Fluctuations
Relatively high and low water levels are common on this reach and are an issue since they impact various user groups. For instance, relatively small level and flow adjustments on the part of RPG leads to the exposure or flooding of significant areas of the shoreline around Golden Lake. This impact is related to the gradual slope of the shoreline. Typically, people do not complain about exposure or flooding of shoreline while levels are maintained between 169.22 and 169.35 m asl during the summer months. Precise water levels where impacts are felt have not been reported by user groups.
In the summer months, the operating regime cannot maintain a level within an 8 to 10 cm range. The low water concern is system-wide, based on seasonal inflows. Under the new operating regime, water will be shared across the entire river system.
The operating regime has been designed to address these issues to some extent. However, a natural bedrock restriction near the outflow from Golden Lake makes control within this range challenging.
Information Need #12:
Bedrock Restriction at Golden Lake Bridge: RPG has arranged to have the bedrock restriction downstream of the Golden Lake bridge studied. This information will enhance the existing hydro logic model and our understanding of Golden Lake’s ability to pass spring water volumes.
Within the first term of the implementation of this plan, RPG will undertake a detailed engineering survey and water flow calculations to characterize the restriction and flow control point near the Golden Lake Dam. The hydrologic model will be updated accordingly.
While the Golden Lake water control structure is limited in its ability to control seasonal variations, the new operating regime has been designed to minimize this issue. Spring water levels will be kept lower than in the past to provide extra storage capacity to safely evacuate the spring freshet.
Irrigation and Industrial Water Withdrawal
Farming and industrial operations may seek to withdraw water in the Golden Lake reach in the future. These future water needs may impact operating regimes on this reach.
See Table 8 for a list of permits to take water (PTTW) currently in place in the Bonnechere River watershed. PTTWs are issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. There are currently no PTTWs in the Golden Lake reach that could impact waterpower operations or cause major water level or flow impacts to fish and wildlife. Any future applications for permits will need to involve consultation with local stakeholders. Applications will be reviewed in the context of this water management plan.
Maintaining High Water Levels During Pike and Muskellunge Spawning and Incubation Period
The spring water levels on Golden Lake have traditionally been kept relatively low, limiting the success of spawning activity for northern pike and muskellunge. Water levels on Golden Lake are lowered to release water from the lake in anticipation of spring flooding associated with the freshet. Pike and muskellunge are known to spawn early in the spring in riparian areas, bays, mouths of tributaries (i.e. Brennans Creek) and wetlands that are thick with vegetation. If water levels are not kept relatively consistent throughout the pike and muskellunge spawning and incubation period, eggs and juveniles are left exposed.
The degree to which water levels in this reach are lowered in anticipation of the spring freshet needs to be refined based on monitoring precipitation trends and water levels in and above this reach. If there is evidence of dry spring conditions (i.e. the spring of 2001 and 2003), water levels need to be maintained at a critical minimum to allow pike and muskellunge spawning before they are lowered significantly.
The provisions of the WMP designed to address the walleye spawn at the Tramore Dam may also support the pike and muskellunge spawning needs within the Golden Lake reach (see Issue 8.5). When water is spilled over the Tramore Dam to cover the walleye spawning bed in the spring, spring water levels increase on Golden Lake, which supports muskellunge and, to some extent, pike spawning.
Maintaining Water Flows and Levels for Walleye Spawning and Incubation Above and Below Golden Lake Dam
Walleye are known to spawn near the Golden Lake Dam. It is important to ensure a consistent water flow through the dam for the duration of the walleye spawn and incubation period in the spring in order to keep the eggs covered.
This is addressed through the new operating regime at Golden Lake Dam in response to freshet conditions. Walleye are known to spawn upstream and downstream of the Golden Lake Dam. RPG, in co-operation with MNR, will adjust flows within the operating regime to achieve optimal spawning conditions.
Maintaining Minimum Water Levels for Safe Summer Recreational Water Uses on Golden Lake
There is a need to maintain minimum water levels on Golden Lake during the summer period in order to allow safe enjoyment of recreational uses such as boating and swimming. RPG should consider the fact that a relatively small water level change exposes wide areas along several stretches of the Golden Lake shoreline.
This issue is related to the shallow, bowl-shape of Golden Lake and a gradual shoreline around much of the lake. In an average year, the summer water levels on Golden Lake have traditionally been kept static (i.e. at a level between 169.22 and 169.35 m asl). RPG intends to keep summer operations within a similar range. The operating regime cannot be so finely adjusted for the summer months as to not inconvenience any of the public recreating on the lake. The new operating regime provides a level-range of 169.1 to 169.44 asl in summer. Water will be shared or passed from Round Lake to Golden Lake and the rest of the system during the summer season. Prior to making recreational plans, lake users should familiarize themselves with the operating regime to help them avoid areas that may become unsafe for boating. Riparian landowners should be well aware of the operating regime prior to installing water intake pipes, docks and other structures.
Maintaining Water Flows and Levels for Lake Whitefish Spawning and Incubation
Lake whitefish, a recreation-ally and historically important fish, are known to spawn along certain sections on this reach. Operations at the Golden Lake and Tramore dams need to consider the elevation of these spawning beds, located above and or below these structures, to ensure adequate and consistent coverage for the whitefish spawning and incubation period in the fall and winter.
The following factors, which influence whitefish populations on Golden Lake, may be impacted to some degree by the Round Lake operating regime:
spawning shoal elevation
location of spawning shoal
timing of spawning and hatching
To ensure that RPG stays within the license of occupation on Golden Lake, the water level of Golden Lake in the spring must be lowered to provide adequate storage. This is further compounded by the constriction at the outlet of Golden Lake.
Information Need #13:
Golden Lake Spawning Areas: Known and potential spawning areas on Golden Lake need to be identified. Information on spawning shoal size, location and elevation, and condition must be obtained. Time of spawning and fry emergence should also be investigated.
Erosion Along Shoreline at Red Pine Camp
During High Water Levels
There is a concern about spring erosion along the shoreline near Red Pine Camp. A property owner has reported that high spring water levels in combination with prevailing winds lead to erosion of the sandy shoreline in this area.
The operating regime cannot eliminate the potential for erosion along the shoreline. It is the responsibility of individual landowners to take action to protect their property. Property owners need to be prepared for erosion resulting from storm events and from seasonal flow and level extremes.
In response to this issue, RPG has hosted a shoreline protection workshop. All riparian landowners in the watershed were encouraged to attend. The workshop included general information on shoreline work and free introductory consultations with engineers familiar with various shoreline stabilization techniques. MNR and Fisheries and Oceans Canada provided landowners information on the work permit application process.
Recognition of Future Water Use by Algonquins at Golden Lake
There are no known negative impacts from level fluctuations to water withdrawals for residential use or sewage treatment on the Golden Lake reach. However, future demands for water should be considered. Preliminary plans for a future water and sewage treatment plant to service the Algonquin community at Golden Lake are being discussed.
This water management plan cannot address this issue until specific proposals are identified. Any significant impacts to or from the operating regime in relation to future water-use proposals will need to be addressed through the plan amendment process.
Other Information Needs for Reach 7 Include:
Information Need #14:
Monitoring Walleye Success: The success of the five year walleye season closure (i.e. moratorium in place for 2002 to 2006) and other rehabilitative efforts should be monitored. The operating regime may have an impact on the degree of success in rehabilitating walleye.
Information Need #15:
Lake Whitefish Population Status: Little baseline information exists on the impacts of current waterpower operations on the long-term sustainability of the Golden Lake whitefish population. It is recommended that the present status of the population be assessed (i.e. SPIN) and continue to be re-assessed under the new operating regime.
Information Need #16:
Brennans Creek Spawning Fish Community: Water flows on Brennans Creek are affected by the operation of the Old Killaloe Mill and Killaloe Station Dams. This may have implications for fish and wildlife along the creek. The spring and fall spawning fish community and potential spawning areas should be assessed in order to help refine the operational regime at the Old Killaloe Mill upstream on the creek. Impacts will be investigated.
Information Need #17:
Monitoring Water Levels and Flows on Golden Lake: RPG has committed to upgrading the water level monitoring gauge (temperature and flow information) near the Golden Lake bridge. Real-time water level information will be available to the MNR for WMP implementation and enforcement.
Information Need #18:
Water Level and Flow Impacts on Wild Rice: Members of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan community traditionally harvest wild rice on parts of Reach 7 and Reach 6. It is recommended that studies be conducted to identify the extent and location of these areas traditionally harvested, and to determine if water level and flow manipulations regulated through the WMP impact those areas and/or harvesting activity.
A letter sent to Mr. Josh Annett, Ministry of Natural Resources. January 2014.
Mr. Josh Annett
Ministry of Natural Resources
Great Lakes & Water Policy Section – Peterborough
300 Water Street
Floor 5 South
Dear Mr. Annett,
The Golden Lake Property Owners Association (GLPOA) takes an active interest in the effective maintenance of the Bonnechere River Watershed Management Plan (BRWMP) because some of our members suffer significant property damage during particularly high spring freshets. Water levels at other times of the year are also important for recreational uses. A GLPOA representative has been a member of the Standing Advisory Committee virtually since the inception of the plan and the Board of Directors is regularly briefed on the activities of the SAC.
We have reviewed the proposed changes to the management process as set out in the two documents circulated late last year on implementation and reporting and on the amendment process. We are concerned that the absence of active MNR participation and oversight of the BRWMP process could result in unintended consequences including a restriction of public participation in the management of the watershed.
We have an excellent working relationship with the management of Renfrew Power Generation (RPG), the agency that would probably take over MNR’s role in convening and managing a standing advisory committee process. But we are aware that such good relationships can sour over time with changes in personnel and operational conditions. We also think the role to be forced on RPG by the proposed changes could eventually place the company in an untenable position, making it impossible for it to meet stakeholder objectives and entangling it in controversy. It is not difficult to imagine a stakeholder resorting to litigation as a means to have its concerns addressed. That possibility is bad enough for the dissatisfied stakeholder, but it would also tend to keep all other stakeholders on the sidelines.
The role of MNR in recruiting suitable SAC members, convening and chairing SAC meetings and overseeing the development and management of the BRWMP has been handled very well by the Pembroke staff. They have provided effective technical support, shown no favoritism, and allowed SAC members to discuss issues freely and reach their own conclusions. An important function for MNR in SAC meetings has been to concern itself with potential impacts on fish habitat. Once the Ministry has removed itself from the management process, who will fill that role?
Under the proposed new regime, RPG would appear to be given total control over the SAC process, including the decision to disband it. Although MNR retains authority to compel a proponent to undertake a Plan amendment in response to a valid concern, we fail to see how the Ministry would maintain the ability to judge validity if it is not present during SAC meetings to hear the various positions. The retained authority provided in the draft regulation looks like an afterthought.
In our opinion, the Minister should reconsider this proposed change to the management regime. Removing MNR from active involvement in water management plans is not a good idea.
John Gulland, Chair, Water Levels Committee, Golden Lake Property Owners Association.
Provisional member of the Standing Advisory Committee for the Bonnechere River Watershed Management Plan.