Lake Capacity Assessment

Over the past number of years, FOCA has helped in various capacities in the review of the MOE lakeshore capacity model, and has worked with our member associations and planning practitioners to productively consider its use towards good planning. FOCA continues in our role as active contributors to sound lake management, and including ongoing upgrades to lake capacity planning.

It has long been recognized that nearshore development can have an impact on the integrity of the natural biota, and water quality. As development occurs on inland lakes, there are economic, social and community impacts as well.

30+ years ago the Province (MMAH, with support from MOE, and MNR) undertook a Lakeshore Capacity Study which resulted in a Lake Capacity Model, based largely on phosphorus. The other Study components that were considered (Wildlife, Fisheries, Land Use, Microbiology), while important, were utilized much less directly in practice. As it stands today the only “hard and fast” (quantitative and defensible) component of modelling and making determinations about “capacity” are those that relate to phosphorus levels.

A main goal of the Study was to “provide a planning tool to assist in evaluating the effects of cottage development on inland lakes”. This was intended to address the problem that “Community planners and other professionals involved in the preparation of planning policies for lakeshore development …have always found it difficult to determine objectively the impact of development on the natural environment.” Overall, according to the “Committee Report” module (1 of the 7 modules), “environmental predictions will always be based on incomplete scientific knowledge. While it may be tempting to seek greater precision, the crucial concern for planners is not whether the predictions are perfect but whether they are the best estimate of the future environmental repercussions of lakeshore cottage development”.

In 2014 we find ourselves still trying to apply good planning on the waterfront, while facing continued development pressure on increasingly marginal shorelands and ever-increasing intensity of building (size, and amount and intensity of use) at the waters’ edge. We are also faced with addressing complex environmental, and community sustainability goals, and ever more challenged to manage “good planning” based on a singular predictive chemical parameter (phosphorus).

In addition to needing more sophisticated approaches and defensible planning parameters, FOCA is working with MOE and others to try to adopt best practices, including approaches that might also consider:

  • Density of shoreline development/overcrowding
  • Amount of available developable land
  • Recurrent water quality problems and/or algal blooms
  • Specific fishery management objectives, i.e. Lake trout, splake, walleye, or (aquatic or terrestrial) species at risk
  • Aesthetic (human/community) considerations – i.e. light pollution, noise pollution, boating traffic
  • Other planning tools – site plan control, tree cutting and site alteration by-laws, septic re-inspection program
  • Safety
  • Site characteristics including steepness, potential erosion, vegetation cover, etc.

FOCA continues to work with MOE and other partners to build a more robust tool(s) for ensuring planners and community members alike can be assured we will not plan cottage country on an ad hoc basis, through death by a thousand cuts, with no longer-term big picture framework.

We look forward to working on our shared interest in sustainable waterfront communities on Ontario’s inland lakes.

Stay tuned to FOCA for updates!

Learn more:

Article: A closer look at the impacts of shoreline development on water quality (pdf; 2 pages)

Fact sheet: Lakeshore Capacity Assessment (pdf; 2 pages)

Terry ReesLake Capacity Assessment