Coalition for Equitable Water Flow (CEWF)

Coalition for Equitable Water FlowThe Coalition for Equitable Water Flow (CEWF) is a volunteer organization that was formed in 2006 to represent the interests of approximately 40,000 residential shoreline property owners on the 41 reservoir and 20 flow-through lakes within the Haliburton Sector of the Trent River watershed in Ontario with regard to water management issues. The Sector includes the sub-watersheds associated with the Gull, Burnt and Mississagua Rivers as well as Nogies, Eels, and Jack Creeks. The residents of this unique collection of ‘lake-based communities’ comprise the majority of the residential tax base in the region.

CEWF Membership

Membership in CEWF is open to the more than 35 Lake Associations, or equivalent property-owner organizations, in the region. Each Member association appoints a representative to the Coalition and 6-10 of those representatives are appointed to the CEWF Advisory Committee that coordinates Coalition activities. The KLCOA has been a member of the Coalition from the beginning and is currently represented there by Janis Parker. In addition Chris Riddle, who was a long time resident on Kennisis Lake and a former member of the KLCOA Board, continues to serve on the Board of CEWF.

CEWF’s Mission

The Coalition is seeking the implementation of an equitable approach to water management at the watershed level by the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW) that accords equal consideration, along with fair and just treatment, to everyone in the Trent River Watershed.  The Coalition believes that reservoir and flow-through (RAFT) lake communities should be considered equally with all other waterfront communities throughout the watershed where policies relate to safe navigation, access to waterfront property, economic sustainability and the avoidance of negative environmental and economic impacts.

CEWF Objectives

In light of the government’s response of September 25, 2009 to the recommendations contained in the March 2008 Report of the Panel on the Future of the Trent-Severn Waterway; and

Recognizing progress made with the creation of a Water Management Advisory Council (WMAC) in 2010, and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the federal government and Ontario in 2011;

CEWF has the following objectives:

  1. Working to represent the interests of CEWF Members to the TSW and other government officials and agencies, and to raise awareness of water management issues amongst all key stakeholders;
  2. Continuing to promote an integrated approach to water management at the watershed level that will improve water conservation throughout the Trent watershed without jeopardizing water levels in either the RAFT lakes or the canal lakes;
  3. Continuing to promote water management approaches that ensure safe navigation, access to waterfront property, economic sustainability and the avoidance of negative environmental and economic impacts for residents on the RAFT lakes;
  4. Seeking to improve the current water management practices of the TSW through regular liaison meetings as well as participation on the Water Management Advisory Council established by Parks Canada for the TSW; and 
  5. Urging meaningful engagement of the Ontario government to ensure that a watershed-wide approach to water management is the basis for discussions on jurisdictional and other matters with Parks Canada.

Why Water Management is an Issue

Water management for the Trent watershed is the responsibility of the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site (TSW), part of Parks Canada, an agency that falls under the responsibility of Environment Canada. The TSW uses 35 dams to turn lakes lying upstream of the canal into reservoirs for the Waterway, draining these “Haliburton Sector” lakes over the summer months in order to maintain navigation on the canal that runs from Trenton on lake Ontario to Port Severn on Georgian Bay. Lakes with TSW ‘control structures’ (dams) are termed ‘reservoir lakes’: lakes without control structures are termed ‘flow-through lakes’. The “Haliburton Sector” is actually made up of six sub-watersheds: the Gull River (17 dams); Burnt River (13 dams); Nogies, Eels, and Jack Creeks (1 dam each) and the Mississagua River (2 dams).

During the navigation season the TSW aims to maintain water levels on the canal lakes within a narrow “navigation range” that spans just a few inches. To do this requires water level reductions of several feet on some of the reservoir lakes and occasionally dramatic changes in flow rates following dam manipulations. Property owners on both reservoir and flow-through (RAFT) lakes share a number of concerns with the water management practices of the TSW, especially with regard to fluctuating water levels and flow-rates.

In the early 1900s it made sense to give priority to the water management demands of the canal. However, following the development of the Haliburton Sector lakes, a more sophisticated and equitable approach is required to balance the conflicting requirements of all stakeholders. This is important in light of increased awareness of the impact of climate change and environmental issues.

Some of the negative impacts of water level and flow rate fluctuations are listed below. CEWF’s conclusion is that a water management approach that embraces water conservation and minimizing water level fluctuations is to be encouraged.

Water Levels “too high”

  • Low-lying cottages flooded; shoreline erosion & ice damage to property increased
  • Wetlands swamped – nests & beaver lodges flooded, habitat degraded
  • Clearance at bridges reduced; unmarked navigational hazards hidden
  • Difficult to install and access certain styles of dock

Water Levels “too low”

  • Access to ‘water access’ properties restricted & inability to navigate between some lakes
  • Inability to remove boats from boat lifts or to trailer boats at boat launches
  • Water intake lines prone to freezing and/or ‘suck air’ in areas with shallow shorelines
  • Unmarked navigational hazards created posing a threat to life and property
  • Wetlands dry out & barren zone created between high and low water marks

Flow rates “too high”

  • Boating and other in-water activities becomes unsafe; inability to navigate between lakes
  • Shoreline erosion increases

Flow rates “too low”

  • River and flow-through lake depths decrease and navigation becomes difficult
  • Shorelines on shallow and flow-through lakes become exposed
  • Access to water and to ‘water access’ properties restricted
  • Fish habitat is degraded e.g. for spring-spawning pickerel
  • Water quality degrades; stagnant water and algae blooms can occur

Lake Levels rising in June (after normal seasonal high)

  • Loon nest become inundated
  • Wetland habitat degraded in prime breeding season for aquatic wildlife

Lake Levels falling after winter-set in October

  • Trout spawning beds can dry out (applies to shallow- spawning trout lakes)
  • Beaver lodges and muskrat houses vulnerable to freezing

Recent Developments Relating to Water Management in the Trent Watershed

In 2008 a federally appointed expert panel on the future of the TSW released an outstanding report entitled “Its All About The Water” noting that:

“.. the waterway is really a vast water management system with a navigation channel running through it. To consider the lakes and rivers of the navigation channel as separate from the rest of the system is neither ecologically tenable nor advisable in planning for the future of the waterway”.

With regard to water management the Panel Report noted:

Competition for water has caused conflict and debate throughout the watersheds. Now, however, the real possibility of a future with less water and increasing demand is changing that debate. It is no longer “the needs of the waterway versus those of Haliburtons.”.. It is and should be, “how water management can best serve the sustainability of the entire watershed.”

In the face of these challenges, we believe that the responsibility for water management is not an appropriate job for Parks Canada. Parks Canada does not have the mandate, legislative and policy instruments or the resources and expertise to do that job well. Moreover, with its responsibility for navigation, Parks Canada should be viewed as a single water user among many.


 Recommendation 11

Improve management of water by creating and appropriately funding an independent water management agency, reporting to the federal Minister of Natural Resources, to assume responsibility for managing water storage, flows, allocation and use in the Trent and Severn watersheds.

 We strongly believe that a culture of conservation and an integrated approach to water management embracing ground and surface water are the fundamental principles by which water must be managed by this authority and indeed by all in the watersheds. Citizens, businesses, and industries must also be engaged in decision-making, timely communications, knowledge creation, and education about water and its management.


In its September 2009 response to the Panel Report, the federal government rejected the notion of an independent water management agency, but did agree to establish a Water Management Advisory Council (WMAC) and to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ontario regarding jurisdictional and other matters including water management. The Coalition has one representative on the WMAC, which began its work in 2010. The MOU with Ontario was signed in 2011.

Following the release of the Panel Report, CEWF’s focus has been on an integrated approach to sound water management at the watershed level. CEWF has taken the view that by seeking common cause with other stakeholders in the Trent watershed we can advance a broad range of issues in a more effective and equitable manner than by individually promoting our own special interests.

In addition to local property owner’s issues the Coalition remains concerned about the significant ecological damage that may be caused by fluctuating water levels.