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Muskrat Council works to save shoreline

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer
Heather Murphy, co-ordinator of the "Love Your Lake," an initiative developed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada, gives a presentation to the Muskrat Watershed Council Saturday at the Royal Canadian Legion in Cobden.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer Heather Murphy, co-ordinator of the "Love Your Lake," an initiative developed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada, gives a presentation to the Muskrat Watershed Council Saturday at the Royal Canadian Legion in Cobden.

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COBDEN – In search of a solution to the toxic blue-green algae that has infested Muskrat Lake, a citizen's council is focusing attention on preservation and enhancement of the lake's shoreline.

Members of the Muskrat Watershed Council gathered here Saturday to review the advocacy group's current activities as well as discuss the major environmental issues that face the 14-kilometre waterway.

Listed as one of Ontario's highly sensitive lakes, the Muskrat suffers 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 there, in terms of property values and public health, but could adversely affect future development and the tourism industry that depends on recreational fishing and boating.

In taking concrete steps to rescue the lake, stakeholders heard that the controlled tile drainage project is being implemented by local farmers with assistance from Renfrew County Soil and Crop Improvement program, Algonquin College and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Using structures built near an outlet, such as a network of perforated pipes installed below ground or a series of adjustable boards, controlled tile drainage can raise or lower the water table enabling the grower to respond to crop needs and reduce the amount of nitrate and phosphate that escape from fields.

Martyna Tomczynski, a student with Algonquin College who is overseeing the project, said they have installed four controlled drainage tiles at two properties. They are using equipment to monitor water levels at the tiles over time. She explained they will also collect weather data, such as precipitation, windspeed, air temperature, soil moisture content, in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of optimal water retention for ideal crop yield.

“We will be implementing other best management practices in conjunction with the controlled tile drains, however, many of our farming partners are already doing a lot to improve water quality,” said Tomczynski.

Some farmers are also working hard to establish buffer strips, an area of land maintained in the fields that helps to control air, soil, and water quality. Buffer strips trap sediment, enhance filtration of nutrients and pesticides by slowing down runoff that could enter the local surface waters.

“From the agriculture perspective, we've done well,” said council member Rene Coulas. “From the cottage owners, we would like to do better.”

Next summer, an assessment of the lake's shoreline will be conducted under the “Love Your Lake” initiative developed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada. Under Love Your Lake, surveyors evaluate lakeshore properties by boat, offering each owner a report that makes suggestions on what they can do to improve their own patch. At the same time, local bodies are provided with broader reports on steps to take to protect their waters. So far, the program has covered 15,000 properties on 51 in Ontario alone.

During her presentation, Love Your Lake co-ordinator Heather Murphy pointed out shorelines help filter pollutants, guard against erosion, enhance water quality, reduce the impact of flooding and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. A healthy shoreline will include lots of natural vegetation, rocks and stones and deadwood, she said. An unhealthy shoreline will feature areas cleared of all or most vegetation, lawns extending right to the water's edge and natural shorelines replaced with hardened structures, such as decks, retaining walls and boathouses.

Once the assessment is completed, confidential reports will be provided to property owners. The reports might include warning residents of damaging fertilizer run-off, encouraging the planting of root-binding species at the water’s edge to help to slow erosion, or offering advice on invasive species.

SChase@postmedia.com 



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