An Invitation for Watershed Organizations to Connect

Did you know that almost 40% of Our Living Waters’ member organizations are local nonprofits and most of these are watershed organizations? While each one represents a unique place and has specific priorities, these groups share a deep-rooted care for water. Their local work is long-term, challenging, and requires dedication and commitment.

Meet the folks at The District Municipality of Muskoka! Our Living Waters reached out and asked if they would like to share their story about working towards watershed health with fellow OLW Network members to see if it resonates, to connect, and to exchange ideas.

“Making Waves in Muskoka”
~by Julia Rodgerson, Communications Specialist at the District Municipality of Muskoka

The Context: In 2008, 2013, 2016 and 2019, we experienced severe flooding events in the Muskoka River Watershed, and in 2021, we had the wettest summer in ten years. With annual precipitation and extreme rain events expected to increase, we know we can expect another flood to occur. Compounding these increased flood risks, we’re also concerned about many other pressures in our watershed like increased development, severe weather events resulting from the changing climate, increased contaminants, invasive species, loss of species at risk habitat and shoreline erosion, to name a few." 

Flood_(002)_-_OLW.jpg Flooding_1.JPG High_Falls_Flooding.JPG


Flooding in Muskoka
All photos © The District Municipality of Muskoka



Who We Are

The District Municipality of Muskoka - Watershed Programs Division leads the development and delivery of evidence-based environmental programs and policies to support both the District of Muskoka and the community in managing and protecting the natural environment while supporting the local economy. 

We’re a small staff team that gathers it’s might in protecting our watershed by collaborating with many community organizations, lake associations, First Nations communities, area municipalities and governments. The District leadership team includes: 

Christy Doyle, Director – Environmental and Watershed Programs: My young daughter and I set a goal to swim in at least 50 different lakes across the watershed each year – and we actually do it!
Glenn Cunnington, Manager – Watershed Programs: I have been connected to the Watershed for my entire life; first as a seasonal resident before becoming a year-round resident 13 years ago.

The Watershed We’re Working to Protect

The Muskoka River Watershed descends 345 metres over a 210-kilometre passage from the headwaters on the western slopes of Algonquin Park to the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay. That’s roughly the size of PEI. We are on the traditional territory of the Anishnaabeg, which includes the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations, collectively known as the Three Fires Confederacy. The Huron-Wendat and the Haudenosaunee Nations have also walked on this territory over time. Southern portions of Muskoka were the traditional territory of the Wendat when they resided in Simcoe County between 1300 and 1650 and they travelled regularly through Muskoka during those centuries.

Muskoka River Watershed is a very distinctive area, and our work is intended to protect its:

  • 5,100 square kilometres
  • 2,000 glimmering freshwater trout-inhabited lakes
  • 7,000 km of rocky Gneiss shoreline
  • oldest granite bedrock on earth
  • towering boreal forests of maple, birch, oak, pines, spruce, tamarack & hemlock
  • 30 provincially protected significant wetlands
  • 48 known species at risk, including the endangered Spotted Turtle, Lake Sturgeon, Little Brown Myotis, & Butternut




Defining Integrated Watershed Management (IWM)

Goal: to establish an inclusive, collaborative planning process that accounts for the environmental aspects of the watershed and the economic and social realities of the region.  

Challenge: the complexity and interaction of natural systems, human impact, climate change and overlapping jurisdictional boundaries.

Integrated Watershed Management: As a result of these events, in 2021 we (The District Municipality of Muskoka) received $4.16 million from the Province of Ontario to fund 12 technical projects, coined “Making Waves”. These projects have examined existing conditions, explored ways to reduce the impacts of flooding, enhanced watershed health, and laid the foundation for a holistic Integrated Watershed Management approach. This is easier said than done… The Muskoka River Watershed includes four upper-tier and 13 lower-tier municipalities with varying land use policies and does not currently have a watershed management plan! The District Municipality of Muskoka has been leading these projects, with assistance from an established and engaged Community Round Table, including representatives from the Muskoka Watershed Council, area municipalities, local businesses, and community organizations.”

Addressing Flooding Concerns: The technical IWM projects have focused on providing local decision-makers with a better understanding of current and future flood impacts. To understand water flows, priority floodplain areas have been mapped and a hydrological model has been developed. This model will help everyone better understand scenarios where the landscape changes, for example due to development or wildfire, and incorporate predicted future weather patterns. Also, two of the projects have considered potential changes to the existing water control structures to mitigate flooding.”

Moving to the Future: The 12 projects will wrap up by the end of February 2023, laying the foundation for an Integrated Watershed Management approach where land-use decisions, environmental and infrastructure projects and broader public policy options can be assessed. We’ll need to secure additional funding to implement the project recommendations and establish a collaborative governance structure.”

“In the meantime, the entire Muskoka community continues to work towards caring for the watershed in its entirety.”

If you see aspects of your watershed work reflected in this story about Making Waves in Muskoka, please consider reaching out to the Muskoka team through their website. Together we can learn from each other and better protect our waters across Canada!

Finally, for more information or to sign up for updates on this work, go to:

The District Municipality of Muskoka
About The District Municipality of Muskoka
The District of Muskoka is made up of six area municipalities and is responsible for delivering critical public services and programs to residents in its community.
An Invitation for Watershed Organizations to Connect
An Invitation for Watershed Organizations to Connect
Imagine a Canada where all waters are in good health: