Making the Muskrat Lake a healthy shoreline
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Terri-Lee Reid, freshwateer conservation researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, speaks to members of the Muskrat Watershed Council Saturday during their annual general meeting in Cobden. Reid explained several strategies for making the troubled lake`s shoreline much healthier.
COBDEN – Homeowners and cottagers can take concrete steps to safeguard and rehabilitate the troubled Muskrat Lake, members of the Muskrat Watershed Council heard Saturday.
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 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.
However, Terri-Lee Reid, a freshwater conservation researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, told the council's annual general meeting at the Cobden Agricultural Hall that while Muskrat Lake has been under considerable stress from the toxic blue-green algae blooms there is still time to reverse the damage. The key is to foster a healthy shoreline that has an abundance of native vegetation, dead snags and stones, birds, fish and wildlife. An unhealthy shoreline, Reid explained, is one that shows signs of erosion, poor water quality, lawns extended to the water's edge and properties with hardened and artificial shorelines.
“Healthy shorelines provide a huge source of enjoyment,” she said. “They create a strong eco-system that improves water quality overall.”
An unhealthy shoreline can accelerate run off into a lake increasing erosion and an excessive amount of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. This results in more algae blooms, decreased oxygen levels, and polluted water incapable of supporting plans and animals. Natural buffers, such as vegetation, that run 30 metres from the waterline can intercept those contaminants and reduce erosion, Reid explained.
She suggested homeowners use pathways to the shoreline instead of stairs and employ eaves to help control rainwater from the roof. If there are several canoes and kayaks on the property, owners should hoist them on racks so that vegetation is not impacted. They should also put in environmentally friendly docks that can be removed. Septic systems should be pumped out every three to five years and inspected. Reid noted that overhanging vegetation, terrestrial logs and aquatic logs should be left in place to provide habitats for marine life. To rehabilitate a shorelines, she suggested shrubs, such as nannyberries, red-osier dogwoods, and trees, such as white pines, tamaracks and red maples, be planted on site.
“If we all take action to improve shorelines health, we really all benefit,” Reid noted.
Formed in 2013, the not-for-profit Muskrat Watershed Council’s goal is to improve water quality in the watershed by using science-based knowledge, and by engaging with people and communities in efforts to identify and reduce nutrient loading from all sources on the Muskrat Watershed. Among the initiatives the council has spearheaded this year is the controlled tile drainage project, 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.
“It's been a busy and productive year,” council chairwoman Karen Coulas told the membership.
They raised the plight of the lake through the successful swimming marathon of Sarah Hall. The council has also participated in Love Your Lake, a shoreline assessment and stewardship program that provides property owners with resources to help improve the health of their shoreline and their lake. Over the past year, Watersheds Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation has conducted an assessment of 316 properties on Muskrat Lake. Reports will be available to property owners in 2018.