The table has been set for better lake health across the Highlands after County council, on Nov. 9, expressed support for the hiring of a planning technologist, to lead a future lake health monitoring program, as well as early backing of a watershed council.

Director of planning, Steve Stone, presented an updated report on the planning technologist and outgoing Coun. Carol Moffatt on the watershed.

Stone said a planning technologist, at $75,000 a year, was key to a lake health monitoring program.

In the spring, County council directed Stone to look into a program that would see lakes monitored on an annual basis.

He said the stated goals are to: work with organizations to confirm and update the percentage of shoreline that remain in a natural or regenerative state; set targets for naturalization; look into what bylaws need changing; and prepare public information.

“Staff propose that Haliburton’s lake health monitoring program could evolve into a program similar to the one already in place at the District of Muskoka,” Stone said. He added the district’s water strategy emphasizes building relationships and sharing resources with other organizations and encouraging greater community involvement in the district’s lake health.

He said the district’s water strategy is aimed at guiding and minimizing the impact of people on water; ensuring human and environmental health; and preserving the quality of life in the community.

They do this in four ways: monitoring lake health with stewardship and outreach; having a strong web presence to communicate with people; floodplain mapping and research; and a watershed council.

Stone said Haliburton County has organizations doing bits and pieces of all of this. For example, lake associations and U-Links have been doing lake health monitoring. However, “the lake health data being collected is not assembled by one organization and then made readily available to the public,” he said.

Stone added the shoreline tree preservation and shoreline preservation bylaw are stewardship. And he noted he’s been asked to come up with a communication strategy for the new year. Floodplain mapping of the Gull and Burnt Rivers is also slated to be completed in 2024.

Stone said the planning technologist is the first step in a lake health monitoring program.

“This position would be responsible for assembling the scientific information from government agencies and community-based organizations who are presently engaged in monitoring the health of the County’s lakes,” Stone said.

“This data will be used by the planning department to establish a baseline understanding of the condition of these lakes. This information can then be presented in an annual report on the state of the County’s lakes to County council.”

He said, looking forward, the planning technologist would be the staff representative on the new watershed council, if created.

Watershed council

Moffatt has been a big promoter of a watershed council.

She presented an enacting document for a new Upper Trent Watershed Council, saying “the idea today is not to adopt anything in detail. It’s just approval of the idea in general.”

She noted coun. Pat Kennedy first raised the issue in 2019.

“The purpose would be to educate on environmental issues, provide sciencebased environmental policy advice and help address watershed management issues,” she suggested.

Looking at both the planning technologist position, as part of a lake health monitoring program, as well as a watershed council, Moffatt said, “I hope people do embrace it. It is a good thing. It aligns so many other things we’re trying to do for the future, for the community, to educate decision-makers and the public.”

She added, “bring together and consolidate the work of a whole bunch of people and put it in a community-based environment where other people can use the data that’s being collected instead of the silos that exist. The good work that exists now exists in separate places.”

Coun. Brent Devolin offered an unconditional ‘yes’ to a watershed council.

“This is important stuff. I look forward to what will evolve from this. As municipal or a public body, I look forward to whichever path we choose. This is our future. “

Kennedy said it was a highlight of his term on County council, “seeing this come to fruition.” He said it was part of the “whole puzzle” of the “quality of our lakes.”