New Muskrat Watershed Council meets
RYAN PAULSEN / DAILY OBSERVER Introducing the newly formed Muskrat Watershed Council executive committee: vice-president Gerard Rollins, left, treasurer Amanda Hawkins, secretary Evelyn St. Amour, chairwoman Rosalie Burton and information manage Murray Hyatt. The executive was acclaimed at the council's inaugural meeting on Saturday morning, Feb. 22 at Cobden Public School.
The Township of Whitewater Region justifiably prides itself on its natural beauty and beautiful scenery, landscapes and, of course, water.
One exception to this is the ongoing issue of water quality in Muskrat Lake. The lake has been the centre of a roiling controversy for years, maybe even decades, as instances of blue-green algae and fish stock depletion have become more and more common.
When Doug Skeggs was working as an information officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the issues surrounding the ailing lake came to him, and he's been working on various ways of dealing with it for the past few years.
For Skeggs, who retired from the MNR in July, but still plans on continuing working to improve the lake's situation, the time for delays and hand-wringing has run out.
"It's at the point now where something has to be done," he says. "The track that Muskrat Lake is on is not going to get better, it's going to get worse. It's going to get worse on potentially on an exponential basis. The algae blooms are increasing in severity and frequency. It's no longer something that only happens for one week in late summer; it makes the lake at certain times of year a very unpleasant place to be, and that's not fair. When you add the potential public health risk of blue-green algae, and we've got to do something. You can't ignore this anymore."
Luckily for the lake and everyone who enjoys it, action is happening, and the community is responding to the increasingly dire situation in the lake.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, the Muskrat Watershed Council held its inaugural meeting and elected an executive committee to spearhead the community group's efforts to bring various stakeholders to the table and really get to work on improving the water quality.
"We've known for some time now that we need to have a water quality initiative," says the group's new chairwoman, Rosalie Burton, "and work with cottage associations and other organizations to improve the water quality."
The path to the group's formation started back in October 2013 with a water quality symposium and has continued with focus group and facilitator meetings and workshops since then.
The group has drafted a work plan and terms of reference for the executive committee, and are now looking to fill six director positions to act as liaisons between the council and various sectors in the community including agriculture, anglers and hunters, and tourism/recreation. In the long term, the group plans to incorporate and seek non-profit status.
Although right now, the group is busy with the logistical tasks of setting up an organization, its overall focus will obviously still be the health of the lake itself.
"Part of it is actually dealing with the science itself," explains Burton. "There have been studies done and water sampling done, but we need to funnel that in so we have a focal point. When we get this information together and we understand what the sources of the phosphorus blooms and the nitrates coming into the water are, then we'll be able to set targets. That's the long-term strategy: to set targets for the various sectors on the lake."
After the meeting wrapped up, Skeggs was optimistic about the group's future.
"There was a lot of positive feeling in the room that this is the way to go," he says. "We'll get this community group going, we'll start to engage the provincial and federal agencies in terms of finding and funding some possible solutions. And some really good people have agreed to sit on the executive for that critical first year."
For more information on the council, or to volunteer as a director, contact Rosalie Burton at 613-622-0616 or council secretary Evelyn St. Amour at email@example.com.
Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist