Trent-Severn River system

What is It?

The Trent-Severn River System is contrived of a series of lakes interconnecting together, spanning 386 kilometers through Central Ontario’s core. It spreads over Georgian Bay, the Severn, Simcoe, Kawartha, and Trent Regions, stretching as far as Lake Ontario. Throughout the Trent-Severn, there are many dams, canals and river channels. The Trent-Severn is used for recreational activites such as boating and many people spend their summers up at their cottages along this particular river system.

In this presentation, we'll be taking a dive into the terrific Trent-Severn and everything it has to offer!

Canadian geese flying over the Trent-Severn.

River Part, River Parts, Everywhere A River Part..

Let's start by breaking down the parts that help the Trent-Severn function...

Watershed and Drainage Basin:

The water in the Trent-Severn river systems comes from two rather appropriately named watersheds- the Trent and the Severn. Trent River is the largest one in Southern Ontario whereas the Trent River basin covers 218 lakes in the Haliburton Highlands and the Severn River drainage basin flows into lakes Simcoe and Couchiching. Water flow from these lakes are coordinated with that of the Black River to avoid the danger of high water which can lead to floods.

The Trent River


The mouth of the Trent-Severn River System is Lake Ontario. The Trent-Severn flows from Georgian Bay (a large bay off of Lake Huron) into Lake Ontario. The water from Lake Ontario later flows into the St. Laurence River.

Toronto skyline seen across Lake Ontario


Tributaries of the Trent-Severn River System include (however are not limited to) the Mill, Rawdon and Cold Creeks. These particular ones spawn off of the Trent River. The Trent River ends up flowing into the Bay of Quinte.

Some of the tributaries mentioned above


70% of the water in the Trent-Severn River System is from groundwater and the other 30% is from precipitation. However, the main source of water is Georgian Bay, as the water originally flows from it.

Georgian Bay

What have we done to control it?

People have controlled this waterway by using dams, locks, swing bridges and marine railways. There are currently 75 dams, 44 locks, 15 swing bridges and 2 marine railways located in the Trent Severn River System. Dams are used in the Trent Severn River System to control water levels and generate power (electricity). An example of a dam along the Trent Severn would be the Trenton dam located in (of course) Trenton. An example of a lock in the Trent Severn waterway is lock 1 in Trenton. Locks are used to move boats up and down the river system. Swing bridges are used for cars to move over a waterway but also move/swing for boats to pass through. One swing bridge on the Trent Severn River System is the Hamlet Swing Bridge in the township of Simcoe. As for Marin Railways- one of the two in the Trent Severn is called the Big Chute Marine Railway. Marine railways allow boats to cross land and continue into another body of water (like a train track).

Locks, boats and spring bridges along the Trent-Severn.

And...What About the wildlife?

Adding invasive species to an ecosystem where they do not belong is like when you’re balancing blocks in a tower. If you add just one more to the top as they’re perfectly set up, it will all come crashing down on you. The same goes for if a species at risk dies out. Like a game of Jenga the blocks will also come tumbling down if you pull out one wrong block (or species in this case). This why it is important for us to protect our natural biodiversity.

A cluster of Water Soldier plants- a major threat to the biodiversity along the Trent Severn

Some invasive species that trigger a great amount of danger to the Trent-Severn River System is the Water Soldier (a perennial aquatic plant). It has long, thin, serrated leaves that grow in a rosette formation (similar to the top of a pineapple). The dense mats of Water Soldiers that form crowd out over other vegetation and alter the water chemistry causing decreased biodiversity of native aquatic species. Water Soldiers can be submerged up to 5 meters but float up to the surface in summer. This poses a threat to summer recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. Boat motors can break up plants allowing them to spread and invade new areas as well as take the natural resources of the lily pad and other aquatic plants in the surrounding environment . You should learn to identify water soldier, avoid spreading it by slowing down when boating through areas it is present and by cleaning all your recreational equipment after use. The water Soldier most likely was in a fish tank that someone dumped into the river. This is the most current threat to the Trent-Severn River System, though there are a lot of prevention practices in place to stop the spread of the invasive species. Some questions lie as to why they didn’t remove it at the source where it was first spotted (before it got out of control). Hence, there is a lesson to be learned- we need better aquatic tools to treat ivasive species. Now an aquatic invasive fish, the Round Goby, a small, bottom dwelling fish that aggressively feeds on small aquatic organisms and can spawn several times each year has become a problem. Round Goby decrease the levels of native fish by eating eggs and young and by out-competing them for food. It is also suggested that Round Goby pass a strain of botulism to the birds and fish that eat them; this toxin comes from the zebra mussels that the Goby eat and causes fish and bird’s death. Some other species that cause dangers are the Cormorant and the Sea Lamprey.

All theses species off-set the biodiversity of the Trent-Severn are almost like silent killers as they roam the water.

The threat of invasive species is a local thing affecting everyone- not just wildlife in the Trent-Severn River System. Think of the problems Guelph has had with the Emerald Ash Borer- trees upon trees have been cut down due to these bugs eating the bark under the ash trees, in turn killing them. The whole predicament starts when an insect, animal, fish, bird etc gets carried across the border by mistake or as someone’s pet and then somehow gets released into the wild.They cross in any number of ways, sometimes tucked away in crates or as previously mentioned as a pet. If set free in an ecosystem where they don’t belong, they wreck havoc and soon if we don’t try and help all our blocks will be crumbling.

Emerald Ash Borer

Now, let’s talk about SAR for a moment (SAR stands for Species At Risk). In the Trent Severn River System there are five species of turtles at serious risk of extinction. For example, let’s zero in on the Wood Turtle. They are one of the most terrestrial (land living) turtles in Ontario. They live in areas with soft dirt by running water that they can easily dig into. If we try to protect the streams and rivers they nest near in the Trent-Severn than, they will be able to lay their eggs and in turn, their species can repopulate and fix the balance in the biodiversity. But, turtles aren’t the only thing at risk. Many species of fish are at risk in the Trent Severn as well. The Channel Darter is at risk because of pollution of the clean waters they reside in along the river system. One of the things messing up the water for these fish is is when excess mud gets tracked into the water in which they reside. This is called ‘soil washing’ and it puts up a major threat for the Channel Darter. It helps organizations trying to assist in the recovery of SAR if you report a sighting of the species in question. Every little bit counts- even if it’s just knowing that there’s been a spotting of one of the SAR at a particular location.

Wood Turtle and Channel Darter

The same idea applies to invasive species- if you see one, you need to call it in. The more they’re adding unwanted links into pre-existing ecosystems and natural biodiversity, the worst.

However, we are one of the major invasive species threatening the Trent-Severn...

An example of the good and the bad in the Trent-Severn's biodiversity...


The Trent River’s connections stretch back all the way back to when First Nations used the Trent-Severn as a map to travel to trading posts and habitats. The Trent Severn Waterway was originally created after more and more settlers had moved on the land in the 1800s. The settlers were drawn to the land in the backwoods that backed onto the water because of the water usage rights that came with it. Eventually the settlers created connections between a few lakes for the convenience of easily being able to transport timber (increasing demand) cut from the surrounding forests. The building of the canals however, became a more relevant problem as the rebellions in Upper Canada began. (You’ll remember in history that the people were outraged by the prospect of the British government spending their tax money on canals that no one but the rich people would end up using instead of putting in roads which everyone could use).The resulting milling, logging, steam-boating, grain handling and recreation all lead back to the original creation of the waterway. The building of the waterway spanned over 87 on and off years of working.

Some of the many different recreational activities along the Trent-Severn...anyone look familiar?

In Review...


Created with images by kasio69 - "_BRK8595 Sunrise over Lock 17" • Bob Linsdell - "Trent-Severn Waterway, Peterborough (502482)"

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