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water quality

Local & Regional Efforts to Protect Lake Waters

Through the efforts of our volunteers, the KLA works with municipal, regional and provincial organizations to (1) monitor the quality of our water on Koshlong, (2) identify sources of contamination, and (3) advocate for and enforce regulations to minimize harmful practices. Learn more below.

1. Monitoring water quality

How is water quality evaluated?

One way that freshwater scientists categorize lakes is according to their "trophic status", which refers to the concentration of nutrients in the water. The greater the nutrient level, the more plants are able to grow and photosynthesize sunlight energy. 

Lakes with less that 10 µg/L TP are considered oligotrophic. These are dilute, unproductive lakes that rarely experience nuisance algal blooms.

Lakes with TP between 10 and 20 µg/L are termed mesotrophic and are in the middle with respect to trophic status. These lakes show a broad range of characteristics and can be clear and unproductive at the bottom end of the scale or susceptible to moderate algal blooms at her concentrations.

Lakes over 20 µg/L are classed as eutrophic and may exhibit persistent, nuisance algal blooms.

Another way water quality is evaluated is Secchi depth, or the clarity of the water. This indicates the depth to which light can penetrate the lake. Light penetration can be affected by dissolved organic carbon (DOC), biological activity, and plant and algal growth, as well as non-biological factors such as sediment. Water clarity readings are used to track changes in the lake that might not be noticed by monitoring phosphorus alone.

How do we measure water quality in our Lakes? Citizen Science!

The Koshlong Lake Association is currently engaged in two research projects which support us in monitoring the ecological health of our lake: (I) a voluntary, province-wide water-quality monitoring effort now known as the Lake Partner Program; and (II) a short-term community based assessment of benthic macroinvertebrates. Learn more about each of these below.


The KLA has partnered for many years with the Federation of Ontario Cottagers Association (FOCA) and the Ministry of the Environment (now MOECC) on the Lake Partner Program, which has collected data from over 500 inland lakes since1996. It is the largest and longest-standing program of its kind in North America. Volunteers collect water samples in May. These are delivered to the Dorset Environmental Science Centre for analysis, and made available online to the public. In addition, volunteers are asked to make a minimum of 6 (monthly) water clarity observations using a Secchi disk. Together, this information enables early detection of changes in the nutrient status and/or the water clarity of the lake due to the impacts of shoreline development, climate change and other stresses. Learn more in this Overview, or read FOCA's Full Report on the program.

II. Benthic Macroinvertebrates

Benthic macroinvertebrates, sometimes called “benthics” or “benthos”, are spineless aquatic organisms living on the bottom of lakes, rivers and other water bodies. Because they spend most or all of their lives in the water, they can be good indicators of common aquatic pollutants such as excess phosphorous or nitrogen. Some groups of benthics are more sensitive to such pollutants, so their levels (or lack of) in a given water body can be indicative of the presence of such pollutants, and of the overall ecological health of that water body. Benthics have been used as an indicator of water quality in Ontario since the early 2000s, and across the globe since the 1980s

In 2022, the Koshlong Lake Association partnered with U-Links Woodlands and Waterways Ecowatch to undertake a five year study of the levels of benthics in Koshlong. The baseline assessment was presented to the KLA Board in early 2023, and shared with members at the Annual General Meeting in June 2023.  Stay tuned over the coming 5 years for updates and overall evaluations of the project.

So, How is our Water Quality on Koshlong?

Our team of volunteers collects samples annually and measures Secchi depth throughout the summer season at the following six sites on the lake.

Historic results for Koshlong can be viewed online from the ON Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. Koshlong has typically fared well as an oligotrophic lake, but you can see from the samples below, taken in Dysart Bay, that clarity has declined over time, and that phosphorous levels have fluctuated, indicating that our activities do have a noticeable impact on water quality. 

Learn more about the Lake Partner Program and the health of Koshlong Lake in this informative presentation given by Dr. Liz Favot, then the Assistant Lake Stewardship Coordinator, at the KLA's 2021 AGM. 

2. identifying sources of contamination

As noted in our Threats to Lake Health page, septic leaching is the leading source of pollution on inland lakes. In our region, maintaining septic systems is essential because our soil and bedrock conditions are not always optimum for treatment. 

In Ontario, responsibility for residential septic systems falls to the municipalities, which in our case are Highlands East (most cottages) and Dysart et al.

In the spring of 2017, Highlands East Council implemented a septic system maintenance inspection program at their cost. The objective of the program is “to aid in keeping our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater pollution free. Septic systems on waterfront properties are priority but all systems in the Municipality will be inspected.” Dysart et al also implemented a more extensive reinspection program in 2017 with a slower implementation timeline. In 2021, this program was updated making it mandatory to utilize a third-party inspection company (WSP Environmental) to conduct the inspections at the cottage owner’s expense.

The results of the Highlands East survey showed that Koshlong Lake had results in line with the total average from all lakes inspected:

  • 174 low risk

  • 18 Moderate risk (15 now resolved)
  • 18 High or Very High risk (10 now resolved)

The remaining unresolved properties on Koshlong continue to be contacted by the municipality with some already working toward compliance. We recommend that owners of at-risk septic systems contact the Highlands East Building Department (705- 447-0051) and resolve their septic issues as soon as possible in order to avoid fines and prevent ongoing or future damage to the water quality of our lake.

Thanks to KLA member Rob Horsburgh for his photograph of Wallace Island used as the background photo throughout this site

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