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Community group working to keep West Lake protected and healthy

Provincially-significant wetlands, marked in pink.

A resolution for flooding at Sheba’s Island causeway and general improvement and protection are the focus areas for the West Lake Community Association (WLCA) to help sustaining a healthy lake and wetlands.

The area is home to a unique and bio-diverse eco-system in the provincially-significant West Lake wetlands of Prince Edward County.

Describing themselves as “small, but mighty” the not-for-profit volunteer community organization consists of committed, devoted and determined residents focused on environmental stewardship of West Lake.

“In a nutshell, the WLCA acts for a unified voice for the concerns and key issues our residents, and for those who do not have a voice, which are all the endangered and species-at-risk species that we co-exist with in our unique and bio-diverse area of the County,” said Cathie Coultis, WLCA chair.

Coultis spoke to the Environmental Advisory Committee Tuesday – its last meeting in this term of council – where she outlined who the group, its function, hopes and goals and the projects they are working on.

The group encompasses all the small communities and its residents around West Lake, including West Lake, Sheba’s Island and Wesley Acres.

Essentially, they hope to support sustainability of a healthy lake and wetlands for generations to come and are looking at a safe environment for all inhabitants of the communities along the shorelines of West Lake, as well an enjoyable experience for the thousands of tourists who visit the area year-round.

She said over the last year, the community’s focus has been two-fold.

“The negative impact of climate change on West Lake, which is very visible, and rehabilitation of its shorelines due to the erosion from flooding,” explained Coultis.

She said the group’s efforts have been bolstered by the Bay of Quinte-Lake Ontario shoreline management plan where flood hazard zones have been identified and mapped out.

In particular, Sheba’s Island causeway (Winn’s Drive) has been identified as needing to be rehabilitated and is included in Quinte Conservation’s recently-released Shoreline Management Plan, and is one of the updated flood hazard zone elevations of West Lake.

WLCA plan to work with Quinte Conservation going forward to ensure safe access over the causeway, as well as proper water flow underneath.

WLCA would like to see the causeway rehabilitated with either a bridge or culvert design so lake water, as well as flood water, can pass through, something Coultis said currently doesn’t happen, resulting in the shoreline being eroded.

“The lack of water flow restricted by the causeway is one of the verified factors along with climate change, warming water temperatures, increasing the rapid spread of aquatic vegetation (invasive and non-invasive), causing loss of open water, threatening wildlife habitat as well as lowering property values for waterfront landowners.“

It was noted that the causeway flooded in both the spring floods of 2017 and 2019.

Coultis said it is an on-going cost to the municipality to keep patching the causeway, which originally was a sandbar that farmers took their livestock across.

“Later, when the McDonald brothers owned the island, a practice track for one of the brothers’ trotters (horses), and afterwards the track was topped-up with the leftover material from the construction of the Loyalist Parkway extension.”

Further, she noted the combination of lack of water flow, climate change (warming lake water temperature) and the alarming spread of invasive aquatic vegetation choking out the lake and wetlands is putting endangered species and species-at-risk, aquatic species, wildlife, and humans’ health at an increased risk.

Councillor John Hirsch clarified further that the Sheba’s Island causeway was once a sandbar, and would have been known as a dynamic beach.

“It was gradually filled it and became a road, and there is no water underneath it to feed the wetland area on the north-east side; there is open water to the left and it’s pretty marshy to the right,” Hirsch said.

Coultis noted that many shoreline property landowners have lost their access to the water, and are now experiencing lower property values.

Since the roadway (Winn’s Drive) is municipally-owned, the WLCA is requesting the municipally be actively involved in supporting the project.

West Lake is the natural habitat to a number of endangered species and species-at-risk, where the group’s work, along with sustainability, is also importantly directed to awareness, education, rehabilitation and re-naturalization.

“It is also home to human residents who care deeply about this natural habitat which is seeing an increasing threat to the health and well-being of all of the inhabitants in the shoreline communities around West Lake,” said Coultis.

She said in addition to the impact of climate change, there is also a threat from housing developments in this watershed which would create increased human waste run-off, including fertilizer run-off.

“We’ve seen over the last year in particular what can be achieved when we come together for a common goal and the common good of not just our small West Lake communities, but the County,” she said.

“We need to work together now more than ever to explore ways to protect or fragile environment and nature, so that it can sustain all life and our association is deeply committed to doing just that.“

A fledging organization formed in 2020, the WLCA actively engages the residents of West Lake and wetlands communities to become more involved with resources and projects offered to the WLCA through various organizations, such as Quinte Conservation, Watersheds Canada, Love Your Lake, Nature Conservancy Canada, Friends of Sandbanks, David Suzuki Foundation and the Prince Edward County Horticultural Society, among them.

Coultis explain how data has been collected from surveys and studies carried out by these organizations, where a number of the projects will continue.

“The WLCA will also be involved in new projects, including nature-based climate solutions with Nature Canada, and creating a minimum of 12 community pollinator gardens with the David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Project,” she explained.

The group will continue to source a number of opportunities to protect the integrity of the eco-system from the negative impact of climate change by cultivating more connections with other like-minded organizations in the County and Ontario.

They have also committed to support the establishment of a National Marine Conservation Area in the Great Lakes beginning with Lake Ontario (Prince Edward County to Kingston).

Coultis said the WLCA, its members and the small communities around the shore of West Lake are looking to engage with the municipality and are looking for support with its environmental sustainability stewardship efforts.

“We have a very committed group of residents, and our association encompasses all of the little communities around West Lake, and we are growing in awareness,” she said.

“The WLCA holds the municipality accountable for its commitment to the 10 year climate action plan and looks forward to contributing in some way to those actions to ensure a positive and sustainable future for generations to come,” Coultis said.

She explained that with the help of a grant this year, the WLCA were able to move ahead with environmental and nature-based projects in the community.

The association’s second focus is on creating more awareness to the public, including motorists, cyclists, joggers and walkers, which includes thousands of visitors to the Sandbanks in this provincially-significant wetlands area.

They are hoping to create prominent roadside signage to be erected just south of where County Road 12 passes over Waring’s Creek.

As for next steps, WLCA are looking for volunteer support from the community and like-minded organizations, as well as engagement and support from the municipality.

They cite educational awareness initiatives and getting information out as key to achieving their goals through education, such as on-going workshops, presentations, and programming to the community and community groups, especially those experiencing similar environmental concerns.

“Providing information to help make the thousands of visitors more aware and respectful of their surroundings as they travel through the sensitive area to the Sandbanks Provincial Park (County Road 12 is one of the very heavily travelled main roadways into the park),” Coultis said.

A number of WLCA initiatives, including a speakers’ series, brochure, social media presence have been created and funded through donations from West Lake volunteers, where fundraising initiatives have included the West Lake artisan show and sale, and the community yard and bake sale and scavenger hunt.

They will also be creating a seasonal newsletter to be distributed throughout the County to keep residents and visitors informed about what the WLCA stewardship action plan is all about, where they are at, and where they are going.

More information on the West Lake Community Association can be found at, which also contains access to various reports and surveys.

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  1. Daniel says:

    A Culvert is a wonderful idea and 50 years overdue. A small bridge would be even better. Thanks for doing great work folks.

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