Each summer Alberta Health Services (AHS) conducts routine water sampling of recreational waters, to establish baseline water quality levels, identify water quality problems, and to manage any associated health risk.
In 2012, AHS monitored 36 lakes and 57 public beaches across the province for fecal coliforms and cyanobacteria. They also partnered with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) to test for microsystin toxins in fish tissue.
Lake Sampling 2012:
During the summer season, 2012, about 1,743 water samples were collected from lakes across the province and submitted to the Provincial Laboratory for bacteriological testing (complete list here). About 1,746 lake water samples across Alberta were submitted for cyanobacteria testing. Rapid microcystin test strips (Elisa test strips) were used in the field to assist with the visual inspections.
This program was overseen by the Alberta Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program (cross ministry program) that includes: Alberta Health, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), Alberta Health Services, Toxicological Laboratory, Provincial Lab, and University of Alberta. It created a Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Alberta Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program whose main objective is to provide recommendations on cyanobacteria monitoring and the public health advisory process.
Fish Sampling 2012:
Alberta Centre for Toxicology Laboratory received 521 fish samples from ESRD. Fish were caught from 10 lakes of 2012 AHS BGA Advisory lakes, 2 lakes as negative controls and one lake under BGA Advisory in 2011 (Wizard Lake). The species of fish tested by the lab were: Walleye, Northern Pike, Lake White Fish, Yellow Perch, Rainbow/Brown trout, and Cisco. AHS is using the Health Canada (HC) Recreational Water Guidelines, 2012, for assessing public beaches for cyanobacterial blooms:
- Microcystins < 20 µg/L
- Cell Counts < 100,000 cell/ml
- Fish (based on HC Drinking Water Quality Guideline) , Mycrocistin- LR <14ng/g (ppb)
2012 Lake Water Sample Results:
During the summer season, AHS issued 17 Blue-green Algae (BGA) Health Advisory across the province, based on visual observation of the algal blooms. The water sample data collected provided strong evidence that visual inspection is an effective tool for issuing public health advisory. All the lakes under advisory (with a visual bloom) had water samples that exceeded Health Canada Guidelines for either cell counts or microcystins. Based on bacteriological testing, AHS issued 5 Contaminated Water Health Advisories across the province, for elevated fecal coliform levels.
Advisories were placed as early as June 30 (Baptiste) and as late as September 1 (Skeleton). There is currently an advisory in place for Fork Lake for a bloom trapped in the ice.
2012 Fish Sampling Results:
So far, fish (walleye and Lake White Fish) muscle tissue from 7 lakes (Baptiste lake, Eagle Lake, Keho Lake, Lac La Nonne, Moose Lake, Pigeon Lake, Sylvan Lake) have been analyzed for microcystins. No detectable level of microcystin was observed in fish muscle tissue in any of the assessed lakes. Analyses of liver and mucle tissues of other species are in progress.
AHS Recreational Water Monitoring Program 2013 Summer Season Recommendations:
- Lakes under Health Advisory in 2012 and previous year will be included in the AHS routine monitoring program.
- Laboratory analysis of beach water samples for:
- Microcystins (Alberta Centre for Toxicology)
- Cyanobacteria enumeration and taxonomy - cell counts (U of Alberta)
- Cyanotoxin gene -Q-PCR method - early detection and prediction of toxin producing cyanobacteria in recreational water
- Bacteriological analysis- Fecal coliforms
- People can safely consume fish fillets from lakes affected by blue-green algae. However, it is known that fish may store toxins in their liver; therefore people may wish to limit their consumption of whole fish and trimmings.
- Animals should not consume whole fish or trimmings from affected lakes.
- Continue testing for microcystin, in liver and muscle tissues of other species
Posting Blue-green Algae Information Signs:
- The information signs will be posted at beach locations and other public locations year round for lakes with at least 3 years history of BGA blooms
- For lakes with less than 3 years history of BGA blooms the info signs will be posted from May to October
Posting a BGA Health Advisory Signs:
- Public Health Advisory Signs will be posted next to the BGA Information Signs, after the BGA Health Advisory was issued by Alberta Health Services
- The BGA Health Advisory Signage will be removed at the end of the season. The lake water will be tested (cell counts and toxicity) prior of removing the signage to ensure there is no health risk.
If an individual sees evidence of a cyanobacteria bloom, call the nearest Environmental Health Officer
to report it and request the public beach of your lake be sampled. All advisories are posted on the AHS Active Health Advisories webpage
. All lakes to be monitored in 2013 will be announced closer to the beach season.