Considering solutions for Muskrat Lake
SEAN CHASE Doug Skeggs addresses a symposium on Muskrat Lake Saturday at the Cobden District Public School. Residents have agreed a water quality improvement council should be formed to monitor environmental issues on the troubled lake.
A potential solution to mitigating the ongoing pollution and water quality issues on the Muskrat Lake is the establishment of a citizens council that can devise solutions to the problem.
That was the underlying theme of a special symposium held Saturday at Cobden District Public School to discuss the environment concerns surrounding Muskrat Lake.
On the province's list of highly sensitive lakes, the 14-kilometre waterway has suffered from phosphorus loading over the past 30 years due to high concentrations of bacteria and toxic blue-green algae blooms. The poor quality of water not only affects those who currently live along 37 kilometres of shoreline, in terms of property values and public health, but could affect future development and the tourism industry that depends on recreational fishing and boating.
Past Muskrat Lake water quality studies by the Ministry of the Environment and the Township of Whitewater Region found that nutrients, particularly phosphorus, entering Muskrat Lake originate from human activities at the lake itself and within the Snake River watershed. The decay of algae bloom consumes enormous amount of oxygen which can adversely affect fish populations. Algae tend to grow very quickly under high nutrient availability, but each alga is short-lived, and the result is a high concentration of dead organic matter which starts to decay. The decay process consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, resulting in hypoxic conditions. Without sufficient dissolved oxygen in the water, animals and plants may die off in large numbers.
The day-long symposium attracted lake residents and cottagers, business and civic leaders, tourism operators, farmers and anglers. Co-chaired by Brian Whitehead, director of planning with JP2G Consulting, and Doug Skeggs, formerly with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Pembroke, organizers hoped residents and stakeholders would gain a better understanding of the issues facing the lake through a series of presentations by a myriad of guest speakers who focus on environmental protection and stewardship.
All parties agreed that the formation of a pro-active water quality improvement council would be necessary to devising an action plan for monitoring the quality of the lake's water and surrounding watershed.
“Where there has been some success in dealing with an ecological problem like what we're seeing on Muskrat Lake it has involved a very active, vocal citizens group that has a vision of the future and knows where they want to go and is motivated to get there,” said Skeggs. “We've built that consensus now.”
As a sensitive lake, a provincial regulation requiring new septic systems to abide by a 300-metre setback from the water's edge has been in place for Muskrat Lake. While the township has endeavoured to get that lifted, Whitewater Mayor Jim Labow felt this meeting made progress in concentrating all energies towards cleaning up the lake. A stakeholder group might be the best solution, he added.
“It's not a secret that our water quality is bad,” said Labow. “The approach to fix the problem will be long term with a grass roots organization.”
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist