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Water quality concerns dominate SLPOA AGMby Julie Druker
Photo: Nigel Waltho, a biologist at Carleton University who specializes in the Caribbean Sea, has a property on Sharbot Lake. He took some underwater photos in Sharbot Lake earlier this summer, including this one.
“Focusing on community improvements in Sharbot Lake village while ignoring the water quality of the lake is like putting lipstick on a pig”, said one member of the SLPOA at the recent Sharbot Lake Property Owners Association annual general meeting, which was held at Oso hall on July 21.
The comment came following an address by Mayor Janet Gutowski who spoke of the township’s voluntary septic re-inspections program, which was completed on the lake’s west basin in 2011. Of the 85 systems inspected at that time, 21 were found to be well maintained while 58 required remedial work; one needed full replacement and the remaining few either required more information or other basic work. The program was suspended this year due to the changeover of building staff at the township, but will resume in 2013 on the west basin of Sharbot Lake.
In a straw vote, the vast majority of association members indicated that only a mandatory inspection system will bring the results they think the lake needs.
Gutowski responded that mandatory re-inspections would be difficult to legislate through council since it was not popular with some voters. She added, however, that she felt mandatory re-inspections would be legislated in the next few years by the province. For many SLPOA members that time will not come soon enough, because the water quality of the lake has been steadily on the decline.
In his presentation, Kevin Browne, environmental coordinator with the SLPOA, talked about a rapid decline in water quality of Sharbot Lake over the last five years. Though it improved dramatically since the mid 1970s and was at its best between 2001 and 2006, the numbers Browne cited in a Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) study pointed to a decline since 2006.
Browne said the reasons include climate factors and the fact that more people are now living full time on the lake, negatively affecting the shoreline’s ribbon of life and increasing the number of septic systems and gray water systems on the lake.
Though water clarity is improving as a result of the appearance of zebra mussels in the last few years, phosphorous levels, which negatively affect the quality of the water, have increased dramatically in the last five years. Data collected through the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority’s Watershed Watch Report shows that levels of phosphorus in the lake’s east and west basins are at or approaching what is called an eutrophic, or enriched level, with high levels nutrients available for plant growth.
Discussing those levels with Susan Lee of the MVCA, it turns out they are not that clear cut. MVCA does a Watershed Watch report for each lake in the Mississippi Valley Watershed every five years. While it is the case that the phosphorous level at lake bottom on the west basin of Sharbot Lake, which is the cold water basin, jumped from 10.4 in 2006 to 22.3 in 2011, the east basin level dropped from the very high level 36.1 in 2006 to 20 in 2011.
Provincial standards define levels of 20 or more as eutrophic
“We tend to look at the long-term trends,” said Lee, “so if there is a high reading in one study, we look five years later to see if the reading is still high. It is is more of a concern if the numbers don’t settle,” she said.
A quick scan of Watershed Watch reports along the Mississippi watershed reveals that a number of lakes tend to have very low phosphorous levels historically and in recent reports, while others are high, much higher than Sharbot Lake.
For example, the phosphorous levels in Crotch and Palmerston Lakes have always been under 10, whereas Patterson, Dalhousie and Mississippi Lakes sit at 30 or more, and have done so for as long as testing has taken place. “Some lakes are naturally higher in phosphorous, than others, even without the impact of human activity,” said Lee.
Increased algae blooms in Sharbot Lake this year have made swimming sometimes unpleasant and even impossible in certain areas of the lake, according to Kevin Browne, an observation that was confirmed by a number of people at the meeting, and that is why phosphorous levels are being looked at.
Susan Lee said that the low water levels and warm weather this year and last would tend to increase the concentration of nutrients and lead to more algae blooms as well in phosphorous enriched lakes.
Kevin Browne also presented the results of a Loon Survey that SLPOA has sponsored. The study showed that loon populations have become increasingly at risk and have declined, possibly due to low water levels and increased boat traffic on the lake. Both of those factors can have a huge impact on loon nests, which are built very close to the water’s edge. Low water levels mean that loons can have trouble reaching their nests and their young, and large boat wakes can often swamp the nests. Statistics from the Loon Survey completed in the east basin by volunteers showed that since 2006 the number of breeding pairs of loons increased from 6 to 14 and the number of chicks went from 1 to 3.
However in 2011 the survey recorded just five breeding pairs with no surviving chicks at all. Browne asked for volunteers to construct loon nesting platforms on the lake and also wanted to see the erection of “NO WAKE” signs for boaters.
On a more positive note, SLPOA president Carol Coupland presented an update of the SLPOA Lake Plan, which aims to provide information to residents and the township to aid the latter in making sustainable development and planning decisions with regard to lake health. The four-year plan aims to gather and analyze data, and Coupland reported it is on track for this year, year one. In year two an action plan with recommendations will be created; in year three, a finalized booklet will be printed of the plan and finally, in year four, a contingency plan will be created.
For more information and upcoming events visit www.slpoa.ca