Special Update:  Blue-green algae

June 28, 2011
Advisory for toxic blue-green algae continues for Big Bob Channel on Pigeon Lake, lifted on Pigeon Back Channel, Sturgeon and Big Bald
Stay up-to-date on blue-green algae outbreaks
What to do if blue-green algae has been confirmed
What to do if you suspect blue-green algae
Impacts on wildlife
Causes of blue-green algae outbreaks
Long-term efforts to reduce the potential for blue-green algae outbreaks
How to reduce your nutrient contribution to the lake
Algae study underway on Kawartha lakes
Advisory for toxic blue-green algae continues for Big Bob Channel on Pigeon Lake, lifted on Pigeon Back Channel, Sturgeon and Big Bald

 

Cyanobacteria. Photo courtesy of Christian Fischer.

Blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria)

Photo courtesy of Christian Fischer

Elevated toxin levels from blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) continue to be present near Big Bob Channel (near Bobcaygeon) on Pigeon Lake, while the toxin levels have decreased and Health Units have lifted the advisories for the Back Channel (on the north east side of Boyd Island) on Pigeon Lake, Ellery Bay (The Lagoon) on Sturgeon Lake and Big Bald Lake.

 

Click here for the Pigeon Lake news release. 

 

Click here for the Sturgeon Lake news release. 

 

On June 21st, 2011, the Ministry of the Environment first confirmed the presence of blue-green algae on the lakes.

Blue-green algae releases toxins when they are dying or disturbed. The toxins can pose health risks for anyone using the water, including pets (more information below).
Stay up-to-date on blue-green algae outbreaks
 

It is difficult to predict when and where a bloom will occur and for how long the
toxin associated with the algae will be present, as environmental conditions continually change.

 

The local health unit will release a water-use warning when the presence of blue-green algae is confirmed by the Ministry of the Environment. Reports and updates are posted in their news sections.

 

For links to health unit news sections, click on the following:   

 

Health Unit contact information

 

City of Kawartha Lakes

Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit

1.866.888.4577

website

 

Peterborough County (includes Galway-Cavendish and Harvey)

Peterborough County-City Health Unit

1.877.743.0101

website

 

Durham Region (includes Scugog)

Durham Region Health Department

1.800.841.2729

website  

What to do if blue-green algae has been confirmed
 

Do not use water containing blue-green algae for any uses. The toxins released by blue-green algae when it is dying or disturbed can pose health risks for anyone using the water, including pets.

 

Drinking the water may result in headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Bathing or showering in the water can result in skin rashes, swollen lips, eye irritation and redness, ear ache and itchiness, sore throat, hay fever-like symptoms and asthma. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

 

Boiling water does not help in these situations, as the process just kills the algae resulting in the release of more toxins into the water.

 

For areas where an advisory has been lifted, you should not use the water if you see a large, dense algae bloom.

 

Click here for more on avoiding blue-green algae. 

 

Click here for more information from Health Canada. 

What to do if you suspect blue-green algae
 

If you suspect a blue-green algae bloom, assume toxins are present and call the Ministry of the Environment Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

 

Reduce the likelihood of health risks by avoiding activities that increase exposure to these toxins during algae blooms; call the local Health Unit for information and follow their advice.

 

If you are unsure about the safety of water for drinking during an algae bloom, then use alternative water sources such as bottled, carted or tanked water.


Click here for a fact sheet from the Ministry of the Environment.
Impacts on wildlife
 

Blue-green algae have been known to cause death in many different types of animals. Animals drink from the shorelines where algae tend to collect; Photo: Mink on rocky shorelinetherefore, they ingest large amounts of any toxins released. There have also been deaths reported in water-dwelling animals such as otters and waterfowl. Cattle are often highly impacted by the algae; however, there are not as many deaths due to the size of the animal.

  

Animals with smaller body masses are more affected by the toxins and tend to be the ones reported dead.

 

Fish can intake toxins from the algae as well, so when eating any fish caught in or near a water body affected by the algae, remove all the internal organs where any toxins would collect (see Health Canada)

Causes of blue-green algae outbreaks
 

Photo: Fertilizer spreaderBlue-green algae occurs naturally during hot periods of weather in fresh water lakes and reservoirs with shallow, slow-moving, or still water that is rich in nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. The algae thrive in areas high in nutrients, which can be elevated in lakes and streams due to human activities.

 

Some of the human sources of these nutrients include storm water runoff, fertilized lawns around the Photo: Shoreline erosionlake, shoreline erosion, industrial effluent, agricultural runoff, faulty septic systems, and sewage treatment plants.

 

Algae blooms, which can often give the water a pea soup appearance, can last up to three weeks and be pushed around the lake by the wind and currents.  

Long-term efforts to reduce the potential for blue-green algae outbreaks

 

The ideal conditions for blue-green algae include hot weather, high nutrient levels in the water, and shallow water that is slow moving or still. While it is difficult to control the weather and the flow of water, we can control the amount of some nutrients entering the water.

 

Photo: Monitoring Sturgeon Lake tributaries

Kawartha Conservation staff monitoring water quality in a tributary draining to Sturgeon Lake to help determine nutrient sources 

 

Lake management planning provides a "big picture" of the entire watershed area that drains to the lake. The different types of things we do on the land and the natural features that help keep our water clean (such as wetlands, natural shorelines and forests) can have a cumulative impact on the quality of our water, so it's important to look at all of these things together.

 

During lake management planning, the lake, creeks and rivers, and entire land area that drains to the lake, undergo three years of intensive scientific study and characterization. Afterwards, the research is used to design targeted actions such as reducing and managing nutrients and other contaminants entering the lake; developing a natural heritage strategy to protect critical natural features; educating and mobilizing watershed residents to take personal stewardship actions; and enabling Official Plan policies and strategic plans to address lake issues.

Photo: Monitoring Balsam Lake tributaries

Water quality monitoring in the Gull River, which drains to Balsam Lake

 

Ultimately, a lake management plan recommends a wide range of actions across the landscape, which contribute to a healthier environment that is more resistant to blue-green algae outbreaks and other potential environmental problems.

 

Currently, a multi-phased lake management planning program is underway in the City of Kawartha Lakes. It began last year with the initiation of the Sturgeon Lake Management Plan.  

 

The Balsam and Cameron Lake Management Plan was initiated at the beginning of summer this year. A plan for Pigeon Lake will begin in 2012. Then, in 2013, plans will be initiated for the lakes in the northern part of the City of Kawartha Lakes.  

 

This approach to lake management planning follows the completion of the Lake Scugog Environmental Management Plan last year, which is now being implemented.

 

Click on the following for more information:

Where nutrients that contribute to blue-green algae come from
 

For many of the lakes in the Kawarthas, we have a general understanding of where nutrients are coming from. Some of the nutrient sources include urban areas, when lawn fertilizers and organic materials enter waterways through storm drains, fertilizer use on shoreline properties, agricultural runoff, and soil erosion along shorelines, to name a few.

 

Through lake management planning, we will be developing targeted actions based on in-depth research to reduce nutrients and other contaminants entering our waterways. Currently, plans are underway on Sturgeon, Cameron and Balsam lakes within the City of Kawartha Lakes.

 

Findings from the Lake Scugog Environmental Management Plan

 

Last year, we completed the Lake Scugog Environmental Management Plan. Through this plan, we found that phosphorus is a key nutrient responsible for the growth of aquatic plants, such as algae, in the lake. The phosphorus sources are shown in the following chart:

 

Chart: Phosphorus sources in Lake Scugog

 

Lake Scugog phosphorus sources (3-year average)  

 

Urban Runoff - 18.2 % (urban areas make up 3.56 % of land use)

Runoff from streets and lawns into storm sewers and watercourses can carry nutrients from fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste into the lake. In total, 18.2 % of the phosphorus load in Lake Scugog is attributed to urban runoff. Urban areas comprise a small area, but contribute a large amount of nutrients.

 

Agricultural Runoff - 23.5 % (agriculture makes up 53 % of land use)

Nutrients from this includes nutrient runoff during rainfall events. Livestock that have direct access to creeks and rivers can cause siltation from erosion, which also adds to nutrient loading. Agricultural runoff accounts for 23.5 % of the phosphorus load in Lake Scugog.

 

Septic Systems - 9.7 %

Leaking, improperly sized and poorly maintained septic systems can result in nutrients being released into the lake through groundwater and surface water, such as creeks and rivers. Septic systems account for 9.7 % of the phosphorus in Lake Scugog.

 

Rural Road Runoff - 6.4 % (roads make up 1.56 % of land use)

Road, ditch and bridge maintenance and construction activities provide opportunities for silt and sand particles to enter creeks, and then enter Lake Scugog, contributing 6.4 % of the phosphorus in the lake.

 

Port Perry Sewage Treatment Plant - 1.8 %

Effluent from the sewage treatment plant is another contributor of nutrients and accounts for 1.8 % of the phosphorus loading in Lake Scugog.

 

Natural Sources - 21.4 %

The erosion of stream banks and shorelines is another contributor to nutrient loading. However, increased erosion through human activity also increases the amount of nutrients entering the lake. Currently, 21.4 % of the phosphorus in Lake Scugog comes from natural sources.

 

Atmospheric Deposition - 19 %

Air pollution and airborne soil particles contribute to nutrient loading in the lake through atmospheric deposits. Lake Scugog receives 19 % of it's phosphorus from the atmosphere.

 

Click here for detailed information on the Lake Scugog Environmental Management Plan  

How to reduce your nutrient contribution to the lake
 

Each of us can help reduce the amount of nutrients entering our local rivers and lakes, and the potential for blue-green algae outbreaks, whether you live in town, on the water, or on a farm or rural lands.

 

Shoreline properties

 

The management of our shoreline properties is vital to the ongoing health and vitality of our lakes.

 

Photo: Unmowed grass along shorelineLeaving 3 metres or more of uncut grass along the shoreline helps to filter nutrients in the surface water that runs across your property to your lake or river during rainfall. Shrubs and flowers that have deep roots also help prevent the erosion of nutrient rich soil into the water.

 

Click here for more information about shoreline protection and maintenance. 

 

We also have grants available for eligible shoreline projects on some lakes within the City of Kawartha Lakes. Click for more information about shoreline grants. 

 

Shoreline property owners can also reduce the amount of nutrients entering the water by avoiding the use of fertilizer. Click here for tips on how to have a healthy lawn without fertilizer. 

 

In town properties

  

DThe things we do in town can have an impact on our local lakes and rivers. Any nutrients or other contaminants on our properties and roads can easily enter stormwater systems when it rains, or when there are excessive amounts of water from washing the car, watering the lawn or rinsing the driveway.

 

Click here for more about things you can do in town. 

 

Agricultural and rural properties

 

CowPreventing runoff and erosion helps keep excess nutrients and nutrient-rich sediments out of our waterways. Other benefits include protecting the health and value of your land and water features, and protecting the health of livestock.

 

Click here for more about reducing runoff and erosion. 

 

We also have grants for various types of projects within our watershed in Durham Region. Click here for more about the Scugog WATER Fund.

Algae study underway on Kawartha lakes
 

In 2010, the Kawartha Lake Stewards Association and Trent University began a Kawartha Lakes algae study with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to answer some basic questions:

  1. What are the primary algal species in the Kawartha Lakes and how do we identify them?
  2. What limiting factors constrain algal growth and blooms in the Kawartha Lakes?
  3. What can be done to help prevent future occurrences of excessive algal growth?

Last year, they sampled extensively on Balsam, Sturgeon, Stoney and Chemong lakes.

 

Algae workshops this summer

 

The information generated by this project will be presented to cottage owners and lakeshore residents. Workshops this summer will include an in-depth look at algae on the Kawartha Lakes, with hands-on demonstrations of algal sampling and identification, detailed discussions on the different algal species found in the Kawartha lakes, and information on general algal ecology. Visit http://klsa.wordpress.com for announcements of upcoming workshops.

 

Booklet on algae in the Kawartha lakes coming in 2012

 

Next year, the Kawartha Lakes Stewards Association will publish and distribute a booklet on algae that summarizes the research findings, providesinformation on reporting algal blooms, how to keep the blooms out of our lakes, and general information about algal ecology.

  

For more information about this and other Kawartha Lakes Stewards Activities, see the KLSA 2010 Water Quality Report.  

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