The littoral zone may form a narrow or broad fringing wetland, with extensive areas of aquatic plants sorted by their tolerance to different water depths.

Typically, four zones are recognized, from higher to lower on the shore: wooded wetland, wet meadow, marsh and aquatic vegetation. The relative areas of these four types depend not only on the profile of the shoreline, but upon past water levels.

The area of wet meadow is particularly dependent upon past water levels; in general, the area of wet meadows along lakes and rivers increases with natural water level fluctuations.

Many of the animals in lakes and rivers are dependent upon the wetlands of littoral zones, since the rooted plants provide habitat and food. Hence, a large and productive littoral zone is considered an important characteristic of a healthy lake or river. 

The littoral zone fringing Colonel By Lake does not have a wet meadow area since the water level is controlled at close to 89 meters above sea-level during the navigation season from mid-May to mid-October.  During the fall, winter and spring Colonel By Lake is usually about .3 meter lower. The weir above the falls at Kinston Mills and the water that flows through the hydro-electric generating station is controlled so that the lake levels can be kept between the higher water level during navigation and the lower level outside this season.

We do have extensive wetlands at the western end of the lake, towards the western end of Esther Bay, in Gibraltar Bay and at the western end of the River Styx, just beyond the canal, is a large wetland that neighbours Colonel By Lake. There many geese and a couple of mute swans breed.

The wetlands are up to a few feet deep and rich in aquatic plants that grow there like an underwater garden, with species reaching their maximum growth at different times during the late spring and summer. These are the areas where fish spawn and several species of turtles, frogs and water snakes make their home. Blue herons, black crowned night herons, green herons, king fishers, swallows, blue martins, common tern and black tern, hunt for food and breed in the bushes and trees that grow in the littoral. We have seen otter and many beavers and muskrats. If we look at night we might see bats and raccoons, weasels, fishers, porcupine and of course coyotes all searching for food in the littoral zone or more inland. In the day time turkey vultures might soar over the land and there are several osprey gliding and hovering over the water to catch a fish for their hungry offspring.


In the map we have shown the different types of shore structures around the lake and each one has a particular effect. Of concern is the possible run-off from the roads, residential areas and farmland around the lake. Also the septic systems installed at each house might have some effect depending on its proximity to the lake and the type of vegetation or the absence of it in the littoral zone where the system is located.

littoral col by lake labelled from screen

Map of Colonel By Lake showing the different shoreline characteristics. Credits:  Henk Wevers

Going west from Kingston Mills, there is a steep rocky shoreline with houses built on top of the bedrock. The blue line indicates the dyke that Colonel By had constructed and that was rebuild and heightened recently in 2009. The water pressure from the lake most likely prevents any inflow of fertilizer and septic effluent and other man-made contaminants from entering the lake; the dyke is an effective barrier. But it has a sterile zone at the lake side, no place for spawning and no meaningful habitat for any wildlife.

The green shoreline to the north east with the Aragon Road running alongside is mostly natural vegetation from bulrushes to brush, small and larger trees and grasses. It starts with the large parkland that was set aside when Edenwood was built in the late 1980s; it includes the flood plain bordering the lake. It circles around Draper Bay where extensive wetlands and marsh buffer the lake. The Aragon Road runs from here parallel with the lake separated by strips of woodland and meadow.  The Cecil and Wilma Graham Memorial Park protects Esther Bay, and therefore the lake. The pink line shows the area of estate houses all built on very large lots and while not far set back from Esther Bay, it is assumed that their effect is moderate.

The canal is dug by hand in 1831 in a deep clay bed and its high banks show steady but slow erosion. At times cows are crazing in the meadows on the west side and they wander in the water which causes much local pollution. Luckily, the presence of livestock is intermittent and has become rarer. Parks Canada tries to work with the farmers to minimise this closeness of livestock to the water all along the Rideau Canal.

The shore around Gibraltar Bay and part of the Isle of Man, winds its way upstream of Steventown Creek towards Highway 15, and then back on the other side of the creek towards the  Rideau Acres Campsite, and then back to Kingston Mills. It consists of  all natural vegetation with some large wetlands. The campground has a small buffer zone of brush and trees to isolate the lake from most of any harmful effects of the campers. Besides, it is only full of human activity during the summer season and this is just six to eight weeks of the year.

Along Kingston Mills Road, several houses are behind the dyke, blue line, or well set back from the lake along the pink line.

In summary: is our lake reasonably well protected to maintain the high water quality that in turn support a healthy fish population and all other life that lives off this resource.

If we are all cognizant of our footprint and activities that potentially impact the lake we can enjoy our “best kept secret” for a long time and preserve it for our children and those who come after us.


I have noticed that the aquatic vegetation in the deeper parts of the lake has been less than in other years. Is it the lower water temperature so far or more importantly, might it be a slow flushing of excess nutrients that the building up of our neighbourhood and the more intensive farming of the past had introduced into the lake?

This might be another subject to be researched, any suggestions or comments?

The definition of littoral zone and its general features are from:


Land use is part of the planning by the City of Kingston and they publish their plans and updates in the Official Plan.  

The land use around the lake affects of course the littoral zone and therefore we publish a section of the latest land use map here.

A Detail from the Official Plan Kingston

off plan detail larger agric jpg

This detail of Kingston’s official Plan August 2011  and updated for the land use in Glenburnie, shows the current land use in our area. 

Of interest are the dark green zones around the lake which are environmental protection areas. These are significant wetlands as part of the littoralzone, flood plains and conservation areas. Note the considerable area to the west in the River Styx that is a breeding area for waterfowl and as such contributes to the wildlife on Colonel By Lake.

The red line is the Trans Northern Pipeline, a ten inch diameter pipeline that transports refined petroleum products for the last forty years. It runs along the Aragon Road and does not go through the lake as is shown.  The nearest is comes to the lake is at the boat ramp.

The grey hatched areas north of the road are designated in the official plan as Prime Agricultural Areas, these have been expanded from an earlier official plan to conform to provincial guidelines for Class A, high quality agricultural land, part of a province wide register of arable lands. These lands are separated from the road and the lake by heavily wooded areas and grass lands . For a more detailed map visit:


Parks  Canada has an interesting brochure about aquatic plants, their useful role and sometimes in shallow lakes the nuisance factor, especially invasive species and algae blooms, have a look.

Aquatic plants are a natural part of the Rideau’s ecosystem. There are many types of plants including tape grass, coontail, bulrushes, milfoil, pondweed, bladderwort, frogbit, duckweed, and water lily. Many are native to the waters of the Rideau but some, such as Eurasian Watermilfoil, are invasive plants, introduced several decades ago to the Rideau Canal.

Many species of animals such as fish (i.e. Bass and pike), birds (i.e. loons, herons, blackbirds, ducks, marsh wrens, least bitterns), frogs, turtles and muskrats need these plants to survive. Some of these are “species at risk”(i.e. least bitterns and stink pot turtles).

These plants play an important role in maintaining and improving water quality by stabilizing sediments and absorbing many harmful pollutants.

Excessive aquatic plant growth is due to a number of factors both natural and human induced. These include: Nutrient run-off, primarily phosphorus, into Rideau Canal waters.

Everyone living within the Rideau Canal watersheds can play a large role in controlling the growth of aquatic plants. The run-off of nutrients into Rideau waters is the single greatest contributing factor to excessive plant growth.

How you can help to control this: Leave (or replant) a minimum three metre buffer of natural vegetation along the shoreline to absorb nutrients before they hit the water.

Do not use garden chemicals. Implementing a rural best management program to reduce  utrient/bacteria runoff from agricultural lands. Maintain your septic system in good running

order (regular pump-outs and maintain the leaching bed/system). Do not “harden” (i.e. pavement, gravel) any near shoreline areas. This increases direct runoff which degrades water quality.

Click here to see the full text and illustrations of the Parks Canada Brochure:



I spotted also an interesting article in Ontario Nature Magazine about “Bringing Nature Back to the Cottage. If you replace “cottage” with our lake side houses, it might help to get rid of the pesky Canadian geese on your lawns and to help the lake sustain a healthy  state. Click here to read the article.


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