Climate Change Concerns

Get tips from FOCA’s recent publication, Managing your Waterfront Property in a Changing Climate.image: brochure cover


Scroll further down this webpage for more context about climate change impacts in waterfront Ontario.

Sept. 2022 – IPCC Explainer: The Science of Climate Change. Do you want to understand the latest IPCC report minus the report? View this comprehensive infographic from ECIU (Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, UK).

Aug.29/22 – Floods, droughts, storms will cost Canadian economy $139B in next 30 years, report says (CBC) – The report, titled Aquanomics, was published by GHD, a global engineering and architecture services firm.

July 25, 2022 – Research: Lakes in hot water, climate change creating a cauldron of issues (Water Canada article by York University) – research findings from FOCA’s science colleagues, Dr. Sapna Sharma, Dr. John Smol and others.

April 2022 – Climate Change in Our Backyards – In partnership with Experience Simcoe, Severn Sound Environmental Association has put together a four part series on climate change in the Simcoe watershed and what actions municipalities are taking to adapt to and mitigate the changes stemming from climate change. Watch the video series:

2021 – FOCA is pleased to be part of the District of Muskoka’s New Leaf Community Working Group, who will be identifying the local impacts of climate change, and outlining the steps to ensure we are able to appropriately prepare, adapt, and increase our resilience to these changes into the future.

FOCA is also participating in Ontario’s Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment (PCCIA) and specifically to help assess future impacts to the People & Communities area of focus.

October 26, 2021 – Northern lakes have warmed six times faster since 1992: Research (Water Canada)

March 9, 2021 – The Great Lakes Region Needs a Coordinated, Consistent Approach to Climate Change (IJC)

November 20, 2020 – How climate change is making winter ice more dangerous (Veronica Penney of the New York Times, as published in the Star Tribune) – this article quotes new research from FOCA’s colleauge Dr. Sapna Sharma of York University.

September 14, 2020 – In an unprecedented statement the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) joined forces with 111 aquatic scientific societies representing more than 80,000 scientists across the world to sound a climate change alarm. The societies call for drastically curtailed global greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of man-made climate change to fish and aquatic ecosystems.
“Swift and resolute action by governments and by individuals to reduce emissions is essential to halt irreversible impacts to freshwater and marine ecosystems, fish, and fisheries from climate change. These grim predictions for the world’s aquatic ecosystems are not just theoretical. They are affecting us now and failure to act will imperil future generations,” said American Fisheries Society President Scott Bonar.
Freshwater fish are especially threatened by the impacts of climate change. Forty percent of all in North America are today imperiled as a result of pollution, habitat loss, water withdrawals, and invasive species. Climate change coupled with these existing stressors will lead to significant declines in freshwater fish, with devastating consequences for cultural, recreational, and economic value of freshwater systems. See the signatories, and read the full statement here.
[FOCA is a longstanding member of NALMS]

August 17, 2020 – Government of Ontario Launches Climate Change Impact Assessment (Water Canada) – The Ontario government has selected a consulting team to conduct the province’s first-ever multi-sector climate change impact assessment. The aim of the assessment will be to strengthen the province’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. The assessment will be conducted over the next two years. It is anticipated that the final results will be released in 2022.

June 25, 2020 – Climate change creating unpredictable future of ‘extremes’ for people living in Ontario floodplains (Capital Current, Ottawa)

January 2020 – 2019 was the second warmest year on record, and the past decade was the warmest ever. Read more in this online article: “No one will be untouched by a warming planet, scientists say” (CBC News)

November 28, 2019 – the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has announced an Advisory Panel on Climate Change, consisting of several of FOCA’s colleagues who are experts on climate change resilience in the not-for-profit, agriculture and insurance sectors, among others. Said Paul Kovacs, panel Chair: “Working together, we can break the alarming trend of rising severe weather damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. Action on climate resilience is a critical element of a comprehensive strategy on climate change.” Find out more about the panel members here.

July 30, 2019 – Why Canada’s political system makes it difficult to fight floods
(The Conversation)

January 17, 2019 – Climate-fuelled flooding is Canada’s costliest and fastest-growing extreme-weather challenge, report says (Globe and Mail)

October 10, 2018 – As The World Burns: The Case for a Restoration Imperative (Bob Sandford / Water Canada)

May, 2018 – the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes has released an article explaining fish impacts due to changing climate, including invasive species and algae: Ice Cover, Food, and Hypoxia: How is Climate Change Affecting Great Lakes Fish?

March 27, 2018 – Environment Commissioner: Canada Is Not Prepared To Tackle Climate Change – Neither Ottawa nor the provinces have really assessed the risks a changing climate poses to the country and have no real idea what might be needed to adapt to it. (iPolitics)

December 2017 – read this engaging story including maps about climate change impacts on species distribution across Canada: The Great Global Species Shake-Up (Toronto Star)


November 2017 – Communicating Biodiversity and Climate Change Report (PDF, 54 pages; Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) – As members of the Ontario Biodiversity Council, FOCA has worked with our colleagues on the challenge of effectively communicating biodiversity and climate change. This new report should provide useful ideas!

October 27, 2017 – Warm winters, scorching summers: New maps project impact of climate change All of Canada is projected to get warmer in the future, even under a low-carbon scenario (National Post), (Prairie Climate Centre)

October 12, 2017 – This article (while focused on the Kawarthas) covers all the bases about changes happening in our waterbodies as a result of climate change and related developments. Read “What’s happening to our lakes and rivers?” by Drew Monkman  (Peterborough Examiner)

Terry speaking climate change Spring Cottage Life 2017

March 31, 2017 – FOCA kicked off the Main Stage presentations at the 2017 Spring Cottage Life Show, with an important discussion entitled “Getting Ready for Climate Change in Cottage Country” by FOCA’s Executive Director, Terry Rees. FOCA Member Associations: contact the office for a copy of Terry’s talk!

November 21, 2016 – FloodSmartCanada is a project created by Partners for Action (P4A), providing a hub of information related to floods, flood risks, and emergency preparedness.  This information is intended to educate community members, organizations, businesses and municipalities about floods and to share information.


Click the image at right to download a checklist about flood readiness (PDF, 1 page)

Most Canadians don’t realize they are at risk, and don’t have a plan to protect themselves from flood. Even if you don’t live near water, your home or business could be at risk, and preparing now could save you money later. FOCA is a member of the Stakeholder Group of the Partners for Action (P4A).  

Climate Change preparedness Ontario flood planning UW 2016October 31, 2016 – The University of Waterloo and the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation released a report card rating Canadian Provinces’ preparedness to limit flood damage; Ontario scored a B-, the highest grade assigned by the report. Download the full report by clicking here (PDF, 116 pages), or see just the graph summary for Ontario by clicking the image at right (JPG, 1 page)

June 6, 2017 – From brook trout to walleyes, warming waters to play havoc with fisheries. (Pennsylvania State University)

March 24, 2017 – The “Water Brothers” explore climate & water impacts in Canada in their TVO video episode “On Thin Ice”:

Canada is home to over 1 million lakes and one of the largest freshwater supplies in the entire world, but scientists are discovering that these vast freshwater resources, and the ecosystems they support, are increasingly at risk due to the effects of climate change. From changing rainfall patterns, to reduced snowpack, melting mountain glaciers and warming lakes, Canada is more vulnerable to climate change than many of us assume. We are indeed living on thin ice.”

March 30, 2017 – B.C. Invests $80M in Emergency Preparedness, Flood Mitigation (Water Canada)

Is Ontario ready for a changed climate?

March 13, 2017 – Plain out of date: Mapping risk in Ontario’s floodplains – Conservation Ontario estimates that about three-quarters of the province’s floodplain maps are out of date. The dangers start with property damage and extend as far as potential loss of life  (TVO)

January 25, 2017 – The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is seeking public input into Naturally Resilient: MNRF’s Natural Resource Climate Adaptation Strategy.

Naturally Resilient coverThis is their five-year plan (2017-2021) towards sustainable natural resource management in Ontario, and to support resilience, as the climate changes, based on five goals:

(1) Mainstream Adaptation
(2) Build Resilience and Biodiversity
(3) Increase Science, Research and Knowledge
(4) Increase Awareness and Motivation
(5) Optimize Services and Response

Comment period is open until March 13, 2017.  NOTE: comments on the MNRF Naturally Resilient proposal are now being accepted up until March 31st

According to the Ontario Dam Inventory,  there are 1,596 medium and large dams in Ontario, and at least 2,000 smaller dams. The Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA) provides the Minister of Natural Resources with the legislative authority to govern the design, construction, operation, maintenance and safety of dams in Ontario (using BMP’s under the Dam Safety Review (DSR).  DSR reports should clearly detail and quantify deficiencies in the structure, noncompliance with policies, guidelines or standards, and any other issues requiring follow‐up. In addition, Emergency Preparedness Plans (EPP) and response procedures should determine if the appropriate level of emergency preparedness exists and is adequately documented. The adequacy of warning systems, training and emergency response plans should be reviewed, as well as the frequency of testing and the processes in place for document control. The DSR should ensure that the notification lists are maintained and that a sufficient process is in place to keep it updated and communicated to external contacts, and whether findings and lessons learned from incidents or from emergency drills are properly documented and followed up within a reasonable time.

Related: February 23, 2017 – America’s Aging Dams Are in Need of Repair (NY Times)


January 2017 – Read this Letter to FOCA members about their important role in a changing climate, from The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. An excerpt:

“Organizations such as yours are vital actors…to ensure Canada’s waterways and ecosystems are healthy and well-protected, and contribute to a prosperous clean-growth economy.”

November 16 – Minister Glen Murray welcomed attendees to the FOCA Fall Seminar by video message, commenting on climate change in waterfront Ontario. Click the video image below:


December 5, 2016 – Algae growth is first documented biological impact of warmer Lake Superior (Duluth News Tribune)
I don’t expect people to be worried about more cyclotella, or to be scared of it. What happens (in the food chain) above that may be the problem.”

November 22, 2016 – Dr. Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, today released her 2016 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, Facing Climate Change.  The report reviews the impacts of climate change, and why Ontario must dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  It also includes information on Ontario’s current emissions, and what the government is doing to reduce them.

November 12, 2016 – In a report entitled Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters published this week by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim, said “Building resilience to disasters not only makes economic sense, it is a moral imperative.” The report assesses the benefits resilience-building interventions can have, including access to adequate types of insurance, early warning systems and other measures.

August 29, 2016 – Waterfront Ontario may be at relatively less dire risk from a changing climate/water future than portrayed in the World Bank’s new publication, High and Dry: Climate Change, Water, and the Economy, yet building resilience can help our communities to limit the negative impacts. Get tips for waterfront Ontario from FOCA by clicking the image above.

August 2016 – State of the Climate report confirms 2015 was Earth’s warmest year on record (American Meteorological Society)

May 18, 2016 – Today, Ontario passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act, as it moves towards joining the biggest carbon market in North America. According to today’s press release,  the province will be accountable for investing proceeds from the cap and trade program into actions that reduce greenhouse gas pollution, create jobs and help people and businesses shift to a low-carbon economy.

Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy states that:

Climate change requires a shift in thinking and behaviour. There are costs to inaction and there are risks if we don’t plan ahead in areas such as public safety and emergency response, roads and other infrastructure, buildings and homes. Adapting and managing risk must be considered side-by-side with reducing greenhouse gas emissions as Ontario plans and invests for the future.

Some perspective from FOCA:

Changing ClimateSee an excerpt from FOCA’s 2015 Lake Stewards Newsletter, on the subject of climate change in cottage country, by clicking the image at the right.(Download PDF, 1 page)

Our climate is changing, in large part from human causes. Climate change will affect our land and water resources, our economy and ultimately our way of life; these profound impacts have obvious policy implications, and will affect our communities and all of us as individuals.

Our job as lake managers has gotten more challenging.

All of the lake and watershed protection and management activities that FOCA advocates for will become more critical and important as a result of the impacts of climate change. As stated in the 2011 OMNR Summary report by Dove-Thompson et al.:

Given the importance of understanding the range of potential climate change effects on aquatic assets, it is essential that management agencies and organizations identify and apply appropriate effective mitigation and adaptive management strategies.”

Flood Happens. How can our communities weather the storm?

FOCA has joined the University of Waterloo’s “Partners for Action” (P4A) initiative. P4A is facilitating collaboration between researchers, government, and non-governmental organizations towards making strategic decisions to improve flood resiliency in our communities.

May 18, 2016 – According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for April 2016 was the highest for the month of April in the NOAA global temperature dataset record, which dates back to 1880. This marks the 12th consecutive month that the monthly global temperature record has been broken, the longest such streak in the 137-year record.
The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for April was 1.98 Fahrenheit (1.10 Celsius) above the 20th century average of 56.7 F (13.7 C). See more climate information from NOAA

May 2, 2016Warming northern (AB) lakes leads to an increase in algal growth (Queen’s Gazette)

April 19th, 2016 – Read the new document from the Muskoka Watershed Council: Planning for Climate Change in Muskoka

April 11, 2016Climate, flooding, devastation: Why no national strategy? (Globe and Mail)

February 2016 – For some years now, FOCA has been following the work of the Ontario Climate Consortium (OCC)
The OCC helps end users figure out the key questions about climate change in Ontario, and connect people to the researchers who can deliver the answers. They have climate projects in three main areas:

  • Climate Information (primary and applied research)
  • Adaptation and Mitigation (guidance and facilitated risk-based planning)
  • Research Mobilization (Communications & Engagement, connecting researchers and end users)

OCC recently released a Comprehensive Review of Climate Change Science in the Great Lakes Basin. ( see Executive Summary)

December 17Canadian lakes and those that are ice-covered in winter are warming twice as fast as others (CBC News)

December 16, 2015 – Lakes are warming

Lake ice breakupA recently published study  analyzed 25 years of data worldwide and concludes that there is pervasive and rapid warming in freshwater lakes at rates much greater than the warming rate of either the ocean or the atmosphere. The study notes that lakes hold a large majority of Earth’s liquid freshwater, support enormous biodiversity, and provide key provisioning and cultural ecosystem services to people around the world.  In the Great Lakes region (and in Northern Europe), lakes were warming significantly faster than the global average.
Since even seemingly small changes in lake temperature can profoundly affect key physical and biological processes, climate change is among the greatest threats to lakes.  This study supports the urgent need to incorporate climate impacts into vulnerability assessments and adaptation efforts for lakes.

See the related article in Science Daily

See the related article in Star Tribune Media

2015-03-18_Hrenchuk_Riley fish trackingDec. 2015 – updates from IISD-ELA: Over the last 47 years, researchers at the Experimental Lakes Area have discovered a lot about the effects of climate change on lakes and freshwater. These are not future predictions; these effects are happening already, and include:

Part I – Our air is getting warmer

Part II – Our lakes are getting a lot less icy

Part III – Our lakes are getting darker

Part IV – Our fish are squeezing into smaller habitats

Part V – Our fish are getting smaller

December 4, 2015 – After COP21 Paris: The interactions of climate change and water have important implications for human poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Water is a key medium through which climate change affects human and non-human lives. Climatically-altered precipitation patterns, extreme weather events (and ensuing floods and droughts), and shifting water temperatures all contribute to alterations in the quality and quantity of freshwater available to humans, plants and animals in ecosystems around the world. In particular, water scarcity is already posing threats to human livelihoods and freshwater biodiversity. Hear more perspectives in this excerpt from the freshwater blog from the COP 21 meetings in Paris: Climate Change and the future state of our freshwaters (PDF; 2 pages).

BUTTON asterixDecember 2, 2015 – The Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change Adaptation is reached at COP21 by almost 300 international partners – focus is on “Water Resilience.”   (COP21 = the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11)

November 27, 2015 – Canada Needs a National Flood Program (IBC/Water Canada Magazine)

November 23, 2015 – Climate Change Brings Ontario Homeowners a Flood Of Insurance Hikes. What You Can Do. (Huffington Post)

September 29, 2015 – During the Canadian Federal election campaign there’s been a lot of talk about the economy. There has been very little discussion about Canadian’s other top priority the environment, and climate change – which is to say the federal leaders have missed the fact that you cannot sustain our economy in a vacuum and without paying attention to the underlying environmental conditions that support healthy communities.
Today, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned that climate change will lead to financial crises and falling living standards – hardly a positive economic outlook.
Carney said specifically that insurers were heavily exposed to climate change risks and that time was running out to deal with global warming unless the world’s leading countries do more to ensure that they do more about their current and future carbon emissions.
Full text and video of Carney’s speech to Lloyds of London.

Video resources on the topic of Climate Change, from Latornell Conservation Symposium, 2015:

August 2015 – FOCA caught up with climate expert Bob Sandford about what impacts we can expect from a changing climate. Click the image below to view the YouTube video:

April 2015 – Study shows changes in land use and climate that increase dissolved inorganic carbon and phosphorus may cause boreal lakes to double their CO2 contributions to the atmosphere.

What about the science?

Citing some relevant scientific reports helps to provide a comprehensive review of climate impacts to aquatic systems in North America. (Citations are listed in full at the end of this article.)

The first report (Kling) examines impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes Region. The report discusses three topics: 1) future climate, 2) likely changes to lakes, and 3) actions for citizens and policy makers.

1) Future Climate
According to the report, the climate of the Great Lakes Region will grow warmer during the 21st century. By the end of the century, temperatures in the region are expected to increase by 5 to 12ºF in the winter and by 5 to 20ºF in the summer.

  • Extreme heat will be more common.
  • The average annual amount of precipitation will not change; however, the distribution will change – more in the winter and less in the summer. The overall effect will be to reduce surface and groundwater levels. As well, the frequency of intense rainfalls will increase, which will increase flooding events.
  • Interestingly, the increased frequency of intense rain events will probably result in poorer water quality treatment efficiency of stormwater ponds due to detention time and pollution loading.

2) Changes to Lakes
The report notes these changes to lake ecosystems:

  • Declining lake levels.
  • Declines in the duration of winter ice.
  • Shorter winter ice cover may reduce the likelihood for winter fish kills in shallow lakes.
  • The distribution of many fish species will change – cold-water species will likely decline in the south and warm-water species will expand northward.
  • Invasions of non-native species will be more likely.
  • The duration of summer stratification will increase, adding to the risk of oxygen depletion. Lower water levels and warmer temperatures may accelerate the accumulation of mercury and other contaminants in the food chain and ultimately fish.
  • Fish growth rate should increase, but not at the same rate for each species. The food chain will likely be altered.

3) Actions for Citizens and Policymakers
Finally, the report lists three ‘prudent and responsible’ actions for citizens and policymakers, representing complimentary approaches:

  • Reduce the region’s contribution to the global problem of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. Strategies for accomplishing this include: increasing energy efficiency, increasing conservation, boosting the use of renewable energy (e.g. wind), improving vehicle fuel efficiency, reducing the number of miles driven, avoiding waste and recycling.
  • Minimize human pressures on the global and local environment to reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems. Prudent actions include: reducing air pollution, protecting the quality of water supplies and aquatic habitat, reducing urban sprawl, reducing habitat destruction and fragmentation, restoring critical habitats, and preventing the spread of invasive non-native species.
  • Anticipate and plan for the impacts of climate change to reduce future damage. Adaptations may include: shifts in fisheries management and farming activities, changes in building codes, and public health management to prepare for extreme events.

The authors emphasize that these actions can be taken now. In addition to preventing or minimizing environmental impacts, these actions will also result in collateral benefits that include cost savings, cleaner air and water, improved habitat and recreation, and enhanced quality of life.

A second report (Poff) provides a less critical analysis. The report states, “… alterations in climate pose serious risk for inland freshwater ecosystems and coastal wetlands, and they adversely affect numerous critical services they provide to human populations.” The report lists eight potential impacts of climate change to aquatic ecosystems:

  1. Aquatic ecosystems are very vulnerable to climate change.
  2. Water temperature increases will shift the thermal suitability of aquatic habitats for resident species.
  3. Seasonal shifts in stream runoff will have significant negative impacts.
  4. Wetland loss in Alaska and Canada is likely to result in additional CO2 releases to the atmosphere.
  5. Coastal wetlands are vulnerable to sea-level rise.
  6. Most specific ecological responses to climate change cannot be predicted, because new combinations of native and non-native species will interact in novel situations.
  7. Increased water temperatures and seasonally reduced streamflows will alter many ecosystem processes with potential direct societal costs.

The manner in which people adapt to a changing climate will greatly influence the future status of aquatic ecosystems.

The authors go further to explain specific impacts to lakes. These include the increase in nuisance algae and the reduction of fish habitats with the warming of lakes. These impacts will be especially severe in shallow lakes. In addition, there will be changes in runoff – increases and decreases – which will in turn affect lake levels.

Finally, aquatic species ranges may expand or contract.

Due to the limited ability of lake ecosystems to adapt to climate change, several examples of ‘climate change insurance’ were presented (only those applicable to lake ecosystems are included here):

  • Reduce nutrient loading to lakes. Protect healthy wetlands and restore degraded wetlands to enhance nutrient uptake and reduce nutrient loading.
  • Locate new reservoirs only off-channel so as not to disrupt the natural downstream flow of water and sediments to critical riverine ecosystems.
  • Minimize groundwater pumping for irrigation, human consumption, etc., that removes water from aquatic and wetland ecosystems.


Kling, G., K. Hayhoe, L.B. Johnson, J.J. Magnuson, S. Polasky, S.K. Robinson, B.J. Shuter, M.M. Wander, D.J. Wuebbles and D.R. Zak. 2003. Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region: Impacts on Our Communities and Ecosystems. Union of Concerned Scientists / The Ecological Society of America. Cambridge, MA. (Available online:

Poff, N.L., M.M. Brinson and J.W. Day, Jr. 2002. Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change: Potential Impacts on Inland Freshwater and Coastal Wetland Ecosystems in the United States. Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Arlington, VA

A Summary of the Effects of Climate Change on Ontario’s Aquatic Ecosystems. Darlene Dove-Thompson, Cheryl Lewis, Paul A. Gray, Cindy Chu, and Warren I. Dunlop. (Available online here )

Terry ReesClimate Change Concerns