The Bayfield River basin covers an area of 497 km2, and includes a population of approximately 11,000 full time residents. Summer months see an estimated 10,000 additional residents to area trailer parks and shoreline cottages. Land use in the watershed is dominated by agriculture. Approximately 64% is committed to row crops, 18% mixed farming and grains, and 5% for hay and pasture. Total forest cover in this watershed is low (approximately 10%) to very sparse (5%) in the upper reaches. Few natural watercourses remain as most have been converted to municipal drains. Rainbow trout and salmon flourish in the lower Bayfield River. Trick’s Creek has a resident brook and brown trout population. Approximately 850 hectares in the lower portions of the Bayfield Valley are classified as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI). The watershed contains 1400 hectares of high and 375 hectares of moderated Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). The major urbanized areas in the watershed include the north side of Bayfield as well as Clinton, most of Seaforth, and Vanastra.
The Bayfield River Watershed
A glacier covered this part of Ontario some 18,000 years ago. When the glacier melted and retreated 5,000 years later, it left a moraine running parallel to the shoreline several km. inlands. Meltwater from the icesheet formed a glacial spillway along the front of the moraine. This spillway now houses many of our significant watercourses, including Trick’s Creek, The Bayfield and Bannockburn Rivers. The main river broke out of the spillway and headed for the lake forming a 30m deep and 1 km. wide gorge near Varna.
Arising in Dublin out of a glacial spillway, the Bayfield River watershed covers an area as far north as Clinton and as far south as Hensall just beyond the northern limit of Carolinian forest zone. As the river travels west of Clinton, its watershed funnels to Bayfield where its flow reaches Lake Huron. This watershed covers an area of 497 km2 with a population of approximately 11,000 full time residents. Summer brings an estimated additional 10, 000 citizens to the nine trailer parks and shoreline cottages.
Geographically, Dublin, Seaforth, Egmondville, St Columban, Vanastra, Varna, Brucefield and Kippen fall within the watershed, Only the portion of Bayfield north of the river falls within the watershed as does the portion of the Bayfield north of the river.
The dominant soil type in the upper reaches of the river is clay with some pockets of light soil near Clinton. In the lower reaches of the river, the soil tends to be shallower. Historically, this land was forested and land clearing occurred in the late 19th century. The lower Bayfield has 10% forest coverage and the upper less than 5%. The recommended coverage is 20 – 25%. Only four counties in Ontario have less than 10% coverage – Huron, Perth, Lambton & Kent. Today the river experiences short periods of elevated flow due to high runoff after significant rainfall and low base flows at other times. It is not uncommon to have dry riverbeds east of Clinton in August and September.
Wetlands like trees have been diminished over the last 150 years leaving us with 5%of what once existed. These areas serve to process contaminates, conserve ground water, moderate levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and organic carbons. In addition they are home to countless living species and offer spawning grounds to muskie, pike and small mouth bass. A healthy watershed requires a minimum of 10% wetland.
Highly productive soils and essentially flat lands provide for a productive agricultural industry. A limited number of gravel deposits can be located at the top end of Trick’s Creek. These are an important source of ground water discharge (springs) and not surprisingly, the summer flow in the Bayfield originates here.
Over a century, agricultural and residential development has taken place in the flood plains. These are important because the help maintain the quality, productivity and health of the river. Nutrient rich silts and sands get deposited on the floodplains during high flows promoting lush growth of plant life. IN return the floodplains improves the quality of the river, its structural diversity and its habitants for fish and aquatic life. They filter sediment, nutrients and other contaminants, dissipate river energy during peak flows and help buffer the river from impacts of land activities.
The watershed is home to what is often viewed as an overabundance of White-tailed deer and Geese. Wild turkeys were extirpated in the early 1900’s and are slowly being reintroduced. Four species in the watershed are listed as vulnerable – Queen Snake, Louisiana Waterthrust, The Black Redhorse Sucker and Northern Brook Lamprey. Chinook Salmon, Brook and Rainbow trout use the river for spawning. Low water flows in the summer limit the resident fish population to baitfish throughout most of the river. Smallmouth bass and northern pike can be found in the warm water deeper tributaries of the river along with an assemblage of other species.