Low amounts of precipitation and hot weather affect streamflow, lake levels and groundwater supplies. As part of Ontario’s Low Water Response Program, low water declarations are determined by the Cataraqui Region Water Response Team convened by Cataraqui Conservation. Membership includes water managers, major water users, public health, agriculture, school boards, marina operators, golf courses, government agencies, dam operators and others.
Low water conditions are monitored and reported based on thresholds of average precipitation and streamflow indicators. For streamflow, the monthly average is compared to a percentage of the lowest average summer monthly flow. For precipitation, one month, three-month and eight-month averages are compared to standard percentages of long-term averages.
Moving into and out of a low water conditions takes time. Depending on how long conditions have been low it can take months for the low water conditions status to return to normal.
There are three levels of low water conditions that can be declared:
- Level One: first indication of a potential water supply problem, managed through water conservation; 10% voluntary conservation by the public is requested.
- Level Two (Moderate): a potentially serious problem, managed through water conservation and restrictions on non-essential water use; 20% voluntary conservation by the public is requested.
- Level Three (Severe): Water supply fails to meet demand, managed through water conservation, restrictions and regulation of water use.
Are you seeing low water conditions? Please let us know.
The Cataraqui Region is highly variable. Parts of our region react differently to low amounts of precipitation and the amount of precipitation received also varies. We could use our help to better track low water conditions. Do you have a concern, or have you made an observation that could enhance understanding of low water impacts for the Cataraqui Region?
Information is being collected with a quick online survey. Note that all submissions will only be used internally for data analysis.
What Happens to Surface Water & Ground Water During Periods of Low Water?
Surface water, groundwater and land are all affected during extended periods of below average precipitation. These low water events regularly occur and, for the most part, the natural environment is able to cope with reduced water availability. Low water conditions impact some watersheds more than others. This can happen because of natural characteristics like topography and soil and bedrock type; however, watersheds with more forest cover and natural draining, especially including wetlands, are better able to moderate the impacts of low water conditions.
Surface Water: Lake levels and streamflows can become very low during extended periods of low precipitation. High temperatures can also increase evaporation rates further reducing water levels. Shallow sections of streams and lakes can become dry prompting fish and other wildlife to seek shelter in deeper, cooler areas. Some fish and other aquatic life may become trapped in isolated pools, particularly in streams, where higher temperatures and reduced oxygen levels could be fatal. Plants that thrive in nearshore and shallow areas may become dry or be subject to lower water levels and more sunlight penetration encouraging increased growth for submerged plant life and wilting of exposed plants. Low water conditions also present new navigation hazards as deeper shoals are now closer to the surface.
Groundwater: Just like surface water, groundwater levels rise and fall seasonally and as a result of higher and lower amounts of precipitation. Many people and communities in the Cataraqui Region depend on groundwater as a source of drinking water. The type of bedrock wells are drilled into is a primary determinant of well supply. When lower than normal precipitation amounts occur over several months, groundwater levels may drop below the depth of well pumps or foot valves resulting in the temporary loss of supply. It is extremely important to never fill a well with water. This is an illegal activity and doing so could introduce contaminants to the groundwater fowling the water source.
Land: Without normal precipitation the soil becomes dry and cracks, lawns turn brown, plants wilt and trees may shed their leaves before autumn. Agricultural crops may not receive sufficient moisture to produce good yields or to mature at all. Pastures will not regenerate after grazing and supplementary feed is required. The risk of fires also increases as leaf litter and dry grasses quickly burn if lightening or human error starts a fire.