General News · 24th May 2014
Most of us living around Hague and Gunflint Lakes experienced the algae bloom this spring and the unpleasant smell and taste of the lake water.
Since I drink lake water, and live close by, and since Ron Croda had lent me his high-powered medical microscope for my science classes, I decided to take samples and look at what was in the lake.
Christian Gronau offered to help, and Christian is a real biologist, no amateur like me. Christian brought his specimen net, we collected samples, identifed the organisms, and Christian took photographs through his own microscope.
Many people have asked me about what we found, so here is the upshot:
We don’t have to panic, but our community should probably pay close attention. The lake is safe to swim in, and the water is safe to drink, as far as we could tell, even when the taste was annoying. However, algae blooms can kill lakes, so doing nothing probably isn’t smart.
The algae bloom was primarily Volvox algae, which is not toxic. That is a relief. However, Volvox algae blooms deplete lake oxygen and have been known elsewhere in BC to virtually kill lakes or transform them into swamp conditions (no more cutthroat trout). We would be wise to monitor the frequency and extent of algae blooms over the next few years.
More disturbing, we also found some toxic bacteria, a cyano-bacteria called Nostoc sp. A cyano bacteria bloom on the scale of the Volvox bloom would likely kill other lake species, including the trout. The Volvox, if it continues to bloom over a few years, would deplete lake oxygen and create swamp or bog conditions. This is not uncommon, and has happened in other BC lakes, such as St. Mary’s Lake on Saltspring.
Some residents have reported algae blooms in the past. We will need to keep a close eye on things, because if these blooms pick up pace, occur more regularly, the lake will likely turn oxygen-deprived, the fish could perish, and the lakes could turn swampy.
In the past, some residents have cleared the outflow when it gets clogged up. This helps the flow through the lake and will likely be a useful in the future. Ken Hansen used to do this, as I recall, in the 1980s and 90s. Smart move.
These algae need certain conditions, and one of those conditions is that they need food. They eat phosphates and nitrates, which flow from every home and septic field in the watershed. So those of us living on the lake are likely feeding the algae blooms. There are things we can do to reduce the flow of these algae nutrients. Most of these are simple, no-brainer things: Avoid phosphate soaps, avoid nitrate fertilizers (non-organic fertilizers), let manure compost well before spreading on gardens, have good working septic fields, maintain septic fields, keep animals as far from the lake as possible, isolate manure from the water run-off, and so forth.
I’m watching cutthroat hit the lake surface right now, as I’m writing this, and this gives me some comfort. During the algae blooms, I did not see the normal morning and evening trout feeding. Algae blooms will kill fish eggs and young trout, so we need to make sure this is not a regular spring occurrence.
I have asked others, who know more about this than I do, for help. Rosie Barlak at the Ministry of Environment in Nanaimo has been helpful. Microbiologist Caleb Summers now lives on the lake in the DeTrey house, and his colleague Dr. Elaine Ingham is an expert in these matters, and she’s been very helpful with tips for our community. Also on Cortes, Christian Gronau and Sabina Leader Mense are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Lauren Miller, on Quadra, who wrote the Village Bay Lakes report, has useful experience.
I have asked Friends of Cortes to help find support from government agencies, and they have already found potential support and advice. The BC Park people, who operate the Hague Lake Park, have offered to work with residents to upgrade the park outhouse, to eliminate that as a source of algae nutrients. Leah, at Friends of Cortes has agreed to compile some information and publish it for the community. Thanks Leah. And thanks Christian.
The thing is: There is no single or even primary source of nutrients into the lake. My home, and every other home in the watershed, is a source of phosphates and nitrates. There is no single solution, as far as I can tell. The lake communities that have preserved their lakes do so by addressing all the sources of algae nutrients, which means all septic and grey water sources, animal sources, fertilizers, and so forth.
I feel a lot better, now that I know a little bit about what has happened and what to expect. If anyone wants to know more, call me (-0005) or call Leah at Friends of Cortes (-0087). It’s kind of fun to look through the microscope and see all the little creatures living in our lake.
Hope you are all having a great spring, getting your gardens planted, and enjoying the nice fresh air, now that the stench is gone. Thanks for reading this.
Cheers, Rex Weyler.
Volvox algae, the primary bloom in Hague Lake
Nostoc sp. cyanobacteria, toxic to some organisms.