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Healthy Shorelines

The shoreline environment is one of the most important ecosystems that affect the water quality of a lake. Special attention must be given to protecting and restoring shoreline environments. A healthy natural shoreline maintains water quality and provides vital habitat.

Vegetated shorelines filter the surface water runoff from upland areas. This runoff can carry harmful sediments, chemicals and nutrients that eventually end up in the lake. Shoreline vegetation can help stop and slow this potentially harmful surface runoff.

Shoreline vegetation also protects water quality by preventing erosion of its banks. This erosion can cause damage to fish spawning areas and may lead to a decrease in the value of your property.

The shoreline area also aids in overall lake health by providing a unique ecosystem in which many aquatic and terrestrial species depend during a part, or all, of their life cycle.


Shoreline Protection

Preservation of shoreline areas is the first step in maintaining water quality. To protect the current state of a shoreline it is recommended that:

  • Existing natural shoreline be maintained
  • Lawn fertilizers not be used
  • Artificial beaches not be created and all natural vegetation, including fallen trees, remain untouched.

Shoreline buffers are a critical component of the shoreline environment. It is important to maintain a natural buffer zone between a waterbody and its upland area in order to protect both water quality and quantity.

Protecting an existing natural shoreline buffer involves allowing Mother Nature to grow and flourish. This includes restricting development in the shoreline area and pruning trees for views rather than removing them.

Restoring a shoreline buffer zone also requires Mother Nature's assistance. If you would like to plant new vegetation, ensure it is a species native to your area and is suitable to the wet conditions found in the shoreline environment. For more information about native vegetation in Muskoka, contact your local nursery or landscaping center.



  • The Muskoka Watershed Council has prepared a Shoreline Vegetative Buffers Report that outlines the importance of shoreline buffers, why they need to be protected and how to create the best suitable buffer for your shoreline.
  • The Shore Primer and The Dock Primer are publications produced by Cottage Life, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations, the Living By Water Project, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. While some regulations have been updated since publication, the general information contained in these two documents is useful. The Shore Primer outlines the importance of maintaining the shoreline environment and The Dock Primer outlines what to do when constructing a dock on your shoreline.
  • The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority's LandOwner Resource Center is a one-stop information shop where landowners can find the environmental information they need to make wise, informed decisions regarding their property. The Ministry of Natural Resources has developed a series of Extension Notes that cover agro forestry, forestry, insects and pests, water, wetlands and wildlife topics. Preserving and Restoring Natural Shorelines outlines many different ways landowners can protect and restore their existing shorelines. It also provides background information on native and non-native vegetation and why it is so important to maintain a natural shoreline.


Shoreline Restoration

If your property does not have an adequate shoreline buffer zone or has an altered shoreline, action should be taken to restore the area.

Shoreline restoration involves creating a new shoreline vegetative buffer zone and creating and maintaining water smart shoreline structures. To start, determine the width of the buffer zone needed for the topography of your property. Next, stop mowing this area and in a few months natural vegetation will begin to grow with no cost or time spent planting new vegetation. Hand weed undesirable or invasive species as they appear to keep them to a minimum.

Once your shoreline buffer is established, a narrow natural pathway to the water's edge can be created to replace large flagstone or wooden boardwalks. By reducing the width of the shoreline access route, it will allow for more natural vegetation to grow. By eliminating hardened surfaces, the flow of surface water runoff will be slowed. Both factors help protect water quality.


What you need to know

The primary pieces of legislation governing projects being carried out in or around water are the provincial Public Lands Act and the federal Fisheries Act. Other legislation may also apply depending on the impacts of the activity such as the Endangered Species Act, 2007.

Section 14 of the Public Lands Act requires you to obtain a Work Permit authorizing specific activities and works on public lands and shore lands. Contact your local Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry office (Bracebridge: 705-645-8747 Parry Sound: 705-746-4201) to make an appointment to speak with a Ministry staff person. Learn more about Work Permits at

If your project is located in an area where there are known or presumed occurrences of Threatened or Endangered Species at Risk, the Endangered Species Act may be applicable depending on the potential impacts of your activities. The local MNRF office will be able to provide more information.

The Fisheries Act provides for the protection of fish habitat. Under this Act, no one may carry out any projects that result in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat (HADD) unless authorized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Act also prohibits the release of harmful substances into water containing fish. Learn more about the 2012/2013 amendments to the Fisheries Act at

For projects above the high water mark, municipal cut and fill by-laws or development permit by-laws may be applicable. Contact your local area municipality for more information.

If your project is located within the Trent-Severn Waterway, consult with Parks Canada (see Policies for In-water and Shoreline Works and Related Activities available at

It is your responsibility to contact all necessary agencies and comply with all existing laws and regulatory requirements. Approvals may be required from several agencies, including those not discussed above. Approval from one agency does not guarantee approval from another agency.



  • Restoring a hardened shoreline is a difficult process. Step-by-step directions are available in the Restore Your Shore Stewardship Guide produced by the Muskoka Watershed Council.
  • The LandOwner Resource Centre has Extension Notes on Restoring Shorelines With Willows. It outlines why willows are an important first step in any shoreline restoration project. It provides information on where to get willows for planting, site preparation, planting techniques and future maintenance. Local nurseries and landscaping centers can also recommend other suitable native vegetation that can be planted along your shoreline.


Building Docks and Boathouses

Docks and boathouses go hand-in-hand when thinking about shoreline environments. These man-made structures act as the bridge between the land and the water. They are often the central gathering place for many summertime activities. However, these structures alter the natural shoreline environment and can lead to the degradation of water quality.

To avoid these negative affects, precautions must be taken when designing, building and maintaining a dock or boathouse. Some things to consider when building a dock or boathouse are:

  • The size and shape
  • Location on shoreline
  • Type of support structures
  • Building materials
  • Personal usage


What you need to know

One of the most important steps in the design process of any shoreline structure is the building application process. Many government agencies may have to approve your structure before building begins. This process can differ depending on the type and size of the structure, regional jurisdiction and sensitivity and uniqueness of your shoreline and aquatic environment.

The first step is determining if your planned dock or boathouse will require approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and/or Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Work Permits section of the MNRF website is a good place to start.

If your planned structure requires a work permit, the next step is to contact your local Area Municipal office and follow the directions recommended by their building department. It is important to note that the Trent-Severn Waterway (including the Severn River) are under federal jurisdiction. In this case, Parks Canada grants approval for in-water and shoreline work in these areas.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) may also have to review your shoreline development application. This federal government agency is responsible for administering the Fisheries Act, which regulates the protection of fish habitat and the prevention of pollution in all of Canada, including private property in every province and territory. This includes your shoreline environment. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada website provides a Projects Near Water section that outlines what you need to know before you begin any shoreline project. It also outlines some best management practices that should be followed if your project does not require a permit.

If your project is located in an area where there are known or presumed occurrences of Threatened or Endangered Species at Risk, the Endangered Species Act may be applicable. Depending on the potential impacts of your activities timing restrictions to protect Species at Risk may apply. Your local MNR office will be able to provide more information.


Procedures and materials

When you are ready to begin building, it is important to continue to proceed in an environmentally friendly manner. Choose the right building materials and assemble your structures on upland areas instead of near or in the water. The Living by Water Project website features construction tips that describe how to protect water quality and your property during construction.

You should use galvanized steel brackets and corrosion resistant screws, bolts and nuts. Using screws, as opposed to nails, will provide increased strength and longevity to a new dock system. These building hardware choices involve more of an initial cost, but the savings are rewarded over the lifespan of the dock structure.

Another decision to make before construction begins is the type of building materials to use. Wood is the most common material used in dock construction. It provides a strong support and frame system, is reasonably priced and is easy to work with. There are many different types of wood, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The Dock Primer describes the advantages and disadvantages of different dock construction materials. It is a publication produced by Cottage Life and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It outlines an environmentally friendly way to plan for, design and build a dock system. It describes the different building materials that can be used, the type and shape of the dock that best suits the shoreline environment and your personal needs.

One controversial issue is the use of pressure treated wood for dock and boathouse construction. This wood was developed with the intent to provide superior resistance to insect damage and natural rotting. It is also inexpensive considering its longevity. The concern is that the chemicals used when making these woods are toxic. During the construction phase, sawdust and scrap pieces can enter a lake and thereby transport the toxic chemicals directly into the waterbody.

For more information regarding pressure treated wood, please visit the following links:

All of these design and building choices are important for maintaining and protecting the natural shoreline ecosystem, which is essential for protecting water quality and quantity.


Factsheets and Permits

If your project includes the use of a herbicide for the control of aquatic plants, you must obtain a permit issued by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) under the Pesticides Act.

If your project involves dredging or the removal of rocks and sediment from the lake bottom, you may require a Work Permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

If your project is located in an area where there are known or presumed occurrences of Threatened or Endangered Species at Risk, the Ministry of Natural Resources will review your activities for potential impacts and provide information about the Endangered Species Act.

Failure to obtain the proper permits for an in-water building project can result in substantial fines of up to $1,000,000, risk of imprisonment and a requirement to cover the costs of returning the site to its natural state.

Building in and around water is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. Fish habitat is very sensitive to change, Species at Risk could be impacted, and the bottom of lakes and rivers are legally public land; therefore it is everyone's responsibility to protect and preserve these unique ecosystems.