French River and Lake Nipissing

Geographic Overview

The Lake Nipissing and French River system is part of a 19,000 square kilometre watershed in northern Ontario, created more than ten thousand years ago when the last ice-age receded leaving a maze of rivers and lakes. Lake Nipissing is the fourth largest inland lake in Ontario covering over 850 square kilometres; from it the French River runs 105 kilometres to Georgian Bay.

The watershed has a long and rich history as a traditional route for First Nations people and later for the fur trade as an important section of the Voyageur Route. In 1986 the French River was designated a Canadian Heritage River for its significance to the geography, culture and history of Canada.

Management of French River Dams

Through PSPC, the Government of Canada owns and operates three dams on Lake Nipissing at the headwaters of the French River. The Portage Dam, Big Chaudière Dam, and Little Chaudière Dam play a critical water management role for the lake and the length of the French River. These dams ensure that appropriate water levels are maintained throughout the year to minimize the impact of high and low water flows through the system.

Water Level and Flow Management

Water management is directed by long-established and widely-accepted operational guidelines in conjunction with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act. Other considerations include; provincial flood rights and limits, and local building by-law restrictions. Historical weather and water level data are also important tools in the water management process.

During the spring melt and in unusual weather conditions, PSPC relies upon an integrated water management approach working with the Sturgeon-Nipissing-French-Wanapitei Water Management Group. Directed by the lead agency, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, this group includes representatives of local private and municipal watershed stakeholders, including the City of North Bay, the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority, Ontario Hydro, provincial agencies, and federal watershed management partners.

Through a process of consultation, information-sharing and exchange of expertise, these partners strive to balance the varying needs and watershed considerations throughout the Lake Nipissing, French River and Sturgeon River Watershed. Important considerations for these water management partners include: public safety, early warning of potential flood conditions, sport fishery habitats and spawning beds, waterfowl nesting, year-round tourist operations, cottager and boating needs, water quality and oxygen levels, ice and water damage, water intake and sewage outfalls, and Ontario Hydro operations.

Did you know?

Weather and water levels are closely monitored to minimize the impact of weather conditions. We update the Water Level and Flow Information page weekly and this information is available through RSS feed. Learn more and subscribe today! The information is also available on our toll-free Recorded Information Line at 1-866-763-2300.