[[Links to detailed annual Lake Steward reports are at the bottom of this page.]

Kahshe and Bass Lake Water Quality

November 2022

Kahshe Lake is being monitored for long term changes in water quality under two main initiatives as outlined below. Because of its smaller size, the water quality program for Bass Lake is limited to the more comprehensive Lake System Health Program

Lake System Health Program

This program is operated by The District Municipality of Muskoka (DMM), with support from the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC), the MECP and several other participating agencies.  For Kahshe and Bass Lakes, the DMM program consists of the following activities which are conducted every other year for Kahshe and lately, every year for Bass Lake:

  • Spring phosphorus sampling conducted at two mid-lake sites on Kahshe (Main and Grants Bay) and one site in Bass Lake in May.
  • Water sample collection for over 30 other chemical parameters at the above sites in May.
  • Secchi depth measurements collected in May and August at the above sites.
  • Temperature and dissolved oxygen readings collected from increasing water depths from the surface to the bottom of each lake in May and August at the above sites. and;
  • Benthic monitoring of Kahshe and Bass Lakes was conducted at established reference sites in both lakes from 2012 through 2018 and was re-commenced in Kahshe Lake in 2021 as groundwork for a Causation Study which will be undertaken by the DMM at a later date to be announced.

Lake Partner Program

This program is operated by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) through the Dorset Environmental Science Centre (DESC).  Under this program, water sampling and measurement of water clarity is conducted by the Kahshe Lake Steward every year.

The program consists of the following activities:

Water clarity measurements - Clarity of the water is measured every two weeks during the ice-free period at three locations (Deep Bay, Kluey’s Bay and Grant Bay, using a Secchi disc, and these findings are forwarded to the MECP for compilation and comparison with other lakes in Ontario.

Water quality testing - Water is sampled from the same three mid-lake locations in May each year and sent to the MECP for analysis of total phosphorous, an indicator of the potential for algal blooms and nutrient enrichment and for calcium.

Summary of Water Quality Findings

A detailed report on the findings of these two water quality sampling programs for both lakes has been provided in the Lake Steward reports from 2012 through 2019 and in related Executive Summaries which are posted via links below. However, due to COVID-19, no sampling or analysis was carried out in 2020, and as such there was no Lake Steward Report.  Sampling under the above two programs was conducted in 2021 and the data have now been included in a 2021 Lake Steward Report.

Based on the findings from over 35 years of water quality sampling and analysis carried out every other year by DMM and every year for a more limited set of parameters by the MECP with the assistance of the Kahshe Lake Steward, the following conclusions regarding the water quality and biological health of Kahshe and Bass Lakes have been drawn:

Total Phosphorus

  • Because of its importance in the growth and development of algal blooms, total spring phosphorus is measured by both programs.
  • Kahshe Lake is currently at a level just below pre-established background concentrations and has shown no evidence of an increase or decrease over the 35+ years it has been analyzed.
  • Total phosphorus concentrations in Bass Lake are about two times higher than in Kahshe Lake, but have not increased or decreased over the 35+ years; however, because Bass Lake levels exceeded 20 µg/L, the lake was flagged as a ‘Transitional Lake’ by DMM and has been sampled every year since 2016.  As noted below, it is now being further investigated via a Causation Study due to its Vulnerable Lake status under the Muskoka Official Plan.
  • Both lakes have been determined by DMM to be low in terms of responsiveness to phosphorus input.  However, because of limited soil attenuation potential, the phosphorus mobility rating is high.  The combination of these two factors results in a moderate sensitivity classification, meaning we need to stay vigilant in maintaining it at or below these levels.
  • In the 2019 and 2021Lake Steward report (posted below), it was noted that several lakes in the Muskoka area have experienced harmful blue-green algal blooms in 2018 and 2019. Although no blue-green algal blooms had been detected at the time the 2019 Lake Steward report was published (May 2020), a late season blue-green bloom was confirmed by the MECP in the Oak Road area on November 11, 2020 and information on its investigation and findings can be found via this link: Current Algal Bloom Status for Kahshe and Bass Lake-R2 Dec2020-Fin.

Unfortunately, another HAB was identified in early October 2021 and the related health alert applied to the entire lake and was lifted on November 10, 2021.  Although it no longer can be discussed in terms of a ‘likelihood’, it is still important to understand how the total phosphorus levels in Kahshe and Bass Lakes compare with levels in lakes where blue-green algal blooms have been documented. The chart above confirms that harmful blue-green algal blooms have developed in several of the impacted lakes that had total phosphorus levels well below those in Kahshe and especially Bass Lakes. Based on these findings, the presence of a blue-green algal bloom in November 2020 and October 2021 should not come as a surprise and this development underscores the importance of renewed efforts to drive our nutrient levels even lower than they currently are, as our climate is changing, and creating conditions that favour algal growth and bloom development.

As a result of the trend towards increasing numbers of harmful algal blooms in Muskoka, the DMM has now updated the Muskoka Official Plan to identify all lakes now considered ‘Vulnerable’ due to: a) the documented presence of an algal bloom, b) increasing concentrations of total phosphorus, or c) levels of total phosphorus in excess of 20 parts per billion.  All ‘vulnerable’ lakes will undergo a ‘Causation Study’ to determine the factors that are causing the algal bloom development. The Causation Study for Bass Lake was initiated by the consulting firm retained by the DMM in 2021 and the findings will be published in late 2022. A DMM-funded Causation Study will be conducted on Kahshe Lake as well, but the timing has not yet been determined.

A more detailed outline of the DMM’s Vulnerable Lake status program can be found HERE.  

Given the impact these algal blooms have on the recreational enjoyment and property values of the lake, the KLRA agreed to fund a Near-Shore Water Sampling Program that was designed by the Conservation Committee and implemented in 2021. A full description of the Near-Shore project can be found HERE .  A full report, as well as an Executive Summary, on the findings of this program can be found by clicking the links.

Secchi Depth (Water Clarity)

  • The clarity of water is affected by the amount of dissolved organic carbon (tea colouring) and also by increasing levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are known to stimulate algal growth.
  • Kahshe Lake is rated as ‘moderate’ in terms of its dissolved organic carbon concentrations; however, based on the DMM and MECP measurements over the years, the clarity level (visibility depth) is in the range of 2-3 m, slightly less than the 3-5 m typical depth for a Mesotrophic lake (a lake with moderate levels of nutrients and plant growth) and more representative of clarity in a mildly Eutrophic lake (a nutrient-rich lake).

Dissolved Oxygen and Water Temperature

  • DMM’s evaluation of these two parameters has been ongoing for several years, and is important as both can have impacts on the health of aquatic receptors and, in the case of water temperature, on the potential for algal blooms.
  • Based on the findings to date, the dissolved oxygen levels appear to be within the normal and healthy range for most aquatic organisms, although levels below the healthy range have been documented at depth.

Calcium and Acidity

  • As calcium concentrations in Muskoka lakes has been decreasing because of improved pollution control on sulphur and other chemicals, there is concern that this could result in undesirable changes to water borne zooplankton species that require it and which are important in the aquatic food web.
  • To date, the levels in both lakes are above the threshold for aquatic impacts, however, there has been a population increase in Holopedium, which suggests that calcium levels have favoured the survival and growth of this jelly-like organism.
  • Water acidity also is monitored and, in both lakes, is well within the expected range.

Other Chemicals

  • To evaluate the significance of the analytical results for a large suite of chemical parameters which have been analyzed for but not reported on by DMM, the data were assessed against surface water quality benchmarks set by the MECP and other agencies to protect aquatic receptors (fish and other life forms found in fresh water) against impacts over long-term exposure periods.
  • This analysis has confirmed that the concentrations of these parameters are well below established aquatic benchmarks.

Conclusions from Water Quality Sampling

Based on the analysis of a large number of chemical and physical parameters by both the DMM and the MECP, it is apparent the waters of Kahshe and Bass Lakes are in a stable and reasonably good condition. However, as the Near-Shore Water Sampling Project has now shown, the quality of Kahshe Lake water which has been based on spring sampling from mid-lake sites is not providing a realistic assessment of water quality in the near-shore environment where algal blooms have been documented. The near-shore findings have clearly demonstrated that algal-promoting nutrient levels increase as the season progresses and appear to be related to accelerated leaching of phosphorus and nitrogen compounds sourced from septic systems and managed lawns located close to the shore.  Although more evidence is warranted, the appearance of late season algal blooms appears to be related to precipitation events associated with our changing climate.  The Near-Shore project findings have been examined by the Conservation Committee to determine if there are additional follow-up actions shoreline property owners can take to mitigate the impacts on near-shore waters. These follow-up actions can be found here.  The findings will also inform the design and conduct of the DMM-funded Causation Study that will proceed when funds are available.

Based on the above water quality findings, we need to remain vigilant in our sampling efforts and overall lake stewardship, as climate changes, including more intense rainfall events, appear to be increasing the migration of algal friendly nutrients from our shorelines to the near-shore water. This has been underscored by the confirmed presence of blue-green algal blooms in the Oak Road area of Kahshe Lake on November 11, 2020 and in several locations in October 2021.

In summary, we can and must improve water quality and reduce the potential for future harmful algal blooms by the actions identified in the "How Can We Help" document referenced above.  These actions have been further condensed below:

  1. Pumping out and having our septic systems (tanks/leaching beds) inspected by a licensed professional for failures and deficiencies every 3-5 years and more often for aging systems that were installed pre-2000;
  2. Managing our properties to increase vegetative cover, minimize impervious surfaces and divert roof drainage and runoff from paths and other hard surfaces away from septic system leaching areas;
  3. Managing our shorelines to keep them as natural as possible with a zone of trees, shrubs or tall grass between the shoreline and any manicured lawns to make them less attractive to grazing by Canada geese and less likely to result in soil erosion directly into the lake, and;
  4. Completely avoiding the use of phosphorus or nitrogen fertilizers on any existing lawns, gardens or flower beds in the vicinity of the shoreline.

Ron Pearson, M.Sc.

Kahshe and Bass Lake Steward

Kahshe Lake Ratepayers' Association (1994) Inc. (KLRA)
PO Box 1318, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada, P1P 1V5
Information: info@kahshelake.ca      Site Comments: webmaster@kahshelake.ca

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