Upper Rideau Lake Water Quality

Water Safety and Safe Water

By Dave Counter
URLA Director of Water Quality

The winter of 2019 left us with an abundance of water. High water levels come with strong currents and when you add some unpredictable wind it can be disastrous for boaters. This combination of high water and wind delayed the opening of some Rideau Waterway locks this spring. The Narrows lock  was closed to boaters several times due to high winds this summer. The Lockmaster makes the decision to close a lock by following strict protocols. The high water and wind stayed with us for most of the summer, which made it harder for our many volunteers to complete their tasks.


Our Water Sampling Program

The unusual wind patterns of the spring summer and fall made finding a calm sampling period challenging. Our volunteer water samplers only sample when lake conditions are safe.

Our Lake Partner Program volunteers include Jayne MacDonald and Tim Nash who take samples in McNally’s Bay, Brian and Diane Wilkinson who do Mulville’s Bay and Mason and Layla Cheikh, who have taken over for Colleen Holmes in Kanes Bay.

The Secchi disc shows water clarity

The results are sent in to the program and will be available to us after January 2020.

The water was quite clear for the entire season in McNally’s Bay this year. The Kanes Bay secchi disc readings showed an average of 6.0 meters over the season, also indicating very clear water. There was a report of some algae blooms near Kanes Bay but it didn’t seem to spread or cause a large problem. We were not able to get a reading in October on Kanes Bay because of inclement weather.

Sarah MacLeod-Neilson, the  Surface Water Quality Coordinator of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA), also does periodic water sampling throughout the spring, summer and fall. This data is sent to Jayne MacDonald for her analysis. Starting in 2020 the URLA will be providing a volunteer and a boat to assist the RVCA in their sampling of Upper Rideau Lake.

The Leeds, Grenville & Lanark Health Unit monitors recreational water quality at Foley Mountain Beach. Sampling season started on June 22 and ended September 3.  All sampling results for 2019 passed.


Our Hazard Buoys Program

Never drive your boat between 2 White Buoys on our lake!

 The White Hazard Buoys on our lake are owned by URLA and positioned and maintained by our volunteers. They are known as Private Buoys. They comply with all regulations, but are not seen on the Rideau Waterway Small-Craft Chart 1513 sheet 2 which includes Upper Rideau Lake. The hazards the URLA white buoys mark can be deduced by studying this chart.

Knowing where you are on the lake and on the chart is the only way to safely navigate. The Canadian Hydrographic Service Chart 1513 can be purchased at the Narrows Lockstation.  It includes 5 sheets that cover navigation from Smiths Falls to Kingston.

Every season I see  boats driving between our two private white  buoys at the Little Brothers shoal at the edge of Kanes Bay. The two green navigational buoys NW1 and NW3 by Second Island are maintained by Parks Canada and I have also spotted boats traveling between them.  If boaters are correctly following Chart 1513 they would know to avoid the Little Brothers area and to stay north of the two green buoys at Second Island.  This is the recommended route to and from Westport according to the chart, which is marked as a safe channel in red dashes.

The high water and wind made launching our 10 white hazard buoys before the opening of the Rideau Canal Locks (May 17) a challenge, first in locating them and then when attaching them to their anchors. Trying to locate a bunch of large rocks in a lake with my wife’s new boat was unnerving. Thanks to George Ingram’s GPS coordinates and a steady hand on the Garmin we found them and marked the anchor chains on Monday May 13. The lake was too rough to attach the buoy and weights to the anchor chain that day, so we put it off until a calmer time. We eventually got the buoys in position on May 17 at 10:00 AM just as the locks opened for the season. Not having the buoys marking the hazards on opening day could lead to potential harm to boats and crew.


George Ingram and Dennis Duncan load freshly cleaned and painted buoys onto
Dennis and Joan’s pontoon boat at their dock.

The crazy winds this summer were so strong they actually moved 3 buoys off their positions. Dennis Duncan reports each event to the Canadian Coast Guard ASAP so a “Notice to Shipping” can be sent out over VHF Marine radio to mariners. This information is also posted in the online Notice to Mariners website www.notmar.gc.ca.

adjustDavid McKinney and Trudy Counter recover a stray buoy in August.  It was back in position the next day.

Removal of the hazard buoys after the closing of the locks (the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving) presented similar hassles to the ones we had in the spring launch. The weather was fine Thanksgiving Day for pulling up the buoys, but they can’t come out until after Thanksgiving when the locks close. The lake was rough for the next few days. Many phone calls and messages were sent back and forth trying to decide when it was safe to remove them. On Thursday October 17 we finally pulled them out. It was still a bit rough and the wind picked up just as we lifted the last buoy.

When removing the Round Island buoys we noticed that the anchors were slightly off their mark and will have to be repositioned next spring. Once all the buoys are out, we clean them off and make repairs as required so they are ready for next spring’s launch.

URLA maintains 10 Hazard Buoys:

  • 6 in McNally’s Bay
  • 2 at Round Island
  • 2 over The Brothers shoal

Peter Newgard and sons-in-law Marc Robichaud and Paul Byrne maintain the buoys in McNally’s Bay. Dennis Duncan and Dave Counter maintain the others. When a buoy runs astray, any 2 of us can return it to  its anchor using GPS coordinates. This is only done when the lake permits safe working conditions.


Be safe when towing skiers, wakeboarders and tubes.

These activities should take place away from the main channels going to Westport, Newboro, or The Narrows. These routes can be congested and wake from boats and larger cruisers make it difficult to see a fallen tuber/skier. As well, the sudden U-turn of a ski boat can cause a cruiser to quickly change course. This combination of boats changing course and heavy wake leaves the skier in jeopardy.

Be safe out there when enjoying our lake!

14 people died in 13 accidents on Ontario waterways so far in 2019


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