Boaters on Ottawa River hit rocky water due to low river levels

The Aylmer Marina says three boats ran aground last week because of low water levels on the Ottawa River, and it's now considering bringing in equipment to clear rocks from its main channel.

3 boats ran aground at Aylmer Marina last week

The Aylmer Marina is considering removing rocks from the main channel because water levels are so low that some boats are touching the bottom. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

Water levels on the Ottawa River are so low that three boats ran aground last week, according to the Aylmer Marina, but the body that regulates the river's dams says it has no plans to release more water. 

Aylmer Marina manager Philip Baumann also said that some larger boats may not be able to safely leave the dock at all, if water levels continue to drop in the coming weeks.

"[Last week] I went out and towed a boat. He was a foot and a half out of the water. He was rocking from side to side. He was way up on a rock," said Baumann.

"Even in our main channel — that allows boats in and out of the marina — boats are touching bottom. They're not running aground, but they are touching bottom."

Boaters not following buoys

Baumann estimates the water level is about half a metre lower than it should be this time of year, and he says it's "been years" since it's been this low.

Boaters are getting into trouble because they're accustomed to water levels being much higher in certain areas, and some people are ignoring the marina's buoy system, according to Baumann.

In the spring, water levels at the Aylmer Marina typically reach the top of this rock wall, according to one boater, who said he hasn't seen water levels this low in a few years.

He added that boats with a draft of more than five feet are having the most difficulty, since the water level is already lower than that in some areas.

There are similar concerns on the other side of the river at the Britannia Yacht Club, but the manager there said for now, no boats have touched bottom because of a deeper basin there.

But the club is worried larger boats could have problems if water levels continue to drop through the rest of August. 

Ottawa River is heavily regulated by dams

The Ottawa-Gatineau region is currently experiencing drought conditions, but the Ottawa River's levels are highly regulated with more than 50 major dams. 

The body that coordinates the operation of those dams says despite what marinas are reporting, water on the river is only "slightly below normal," and 2012 and 2010 saw much lower water levels. 

The river is running about three centimetres below normal, according to Michael Sarich of the Ottawa River Regulation Secretariat.

Sarich said the water won't be raised because operators on the river, such as Hydro Quebec and Ontario Power Generation, need to ensure they have "sufficient water in storage" in case the drought gets worse. 

Low water reveals possible submerged truck

It's not just marinas reporting low water on the Ottawa River. 

Earlier this week, an Ottawa kayaker posted photos on social media of what appears to be an old, submerged truck in the water at Shirley's Bay.

Stephen Donovan told CBC News he's noticed something below the surface of the water on previous kayak outings, but this weekend was the first time the water has ever been low enough that the vehicle's tire was visible above the surface. 

Stephen Donovan believes this is an old, submerged truck in the water at Shirley's Bay on the Ottawa River. He says last week was the first time he's seen the tire break the water's surface. (Stephen Donovan)