2016 Year in Review: Alarm sounds over toxic Quamichan algae

Many people who live around Quamichan Lake and their pets are steering clear of the water due to the toxic blue-green algae

Many people who live around Quamichan Lake and their pets are steering clear of the water until solutions are found to deal with the toxic blue-green algae that has plagued the lake since the fall.

The Municipality of North Cowichan established the Quamichan Lake Water Quality Task Force earlier this month after the death of at least four dogs that had ingested water from the lake since October.

The first reported dog death was a six-year-old border collie owned by Dr. Lyn Pascoe, a family physician who lives on the lake.

Pascoe raised the alarm about the problem after the death of her dog, and that’s when the other dog deaths came to light.

She sent water samples from the lake to BC Aquifer, which does water inspections and tests around the province, and BCA confirmed that the water in Quamichan Lake is heavy in cyanotoxins.

As suspected, the toxins are produced by blue-green algae, and if produced in enough concentrations, can have significant health impacts on animals and humans.

Roger Hart is the chairman of the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society, which was formed in 2006 to respond to the continuously declining health of Quamichan Lake.

He said in October that the cause of the problem is likely the amount of nutrients that have built up at the bottom of the shallow lake.

Hart said that the nutrient build up is probably the result of a combination of fertilizers making their way into the lake from agricultural sites on one side, and work on housing developments on the other side of the lake.

He said the health of Quamichan Lake has been going downhill for decades, and the fear now is that it has finally hit the tipping point.

The Municipality of North Cowichan has posted signs around Quamichan Lake warning people about the problem and advising them to keep themselves and their animals away from the water until the situation is dealt with.

The task force that the municipality established is a select committee of council and will act only in an advisory role.

It will be expected to recommend treatment strategies that will improve the water quality of the lake to the provincial government for consideration.

The task force will also identify specific strategies that the municipality and its partners can implement to reduce nutrient loading in the lake.

The seven-member task force will be chaired by North Cowichan mayor Jon Lefebure and consist of Jim Cosh, from the Quamichan Lake Stewardship Society, Dr. David Preikshot, from Madrone Environmental Services, Dr. Dave Groves, a retired biologist and three people with expertise in water quality that are in the process of being chosen.

It’s expected that the task force will report to council with its recommendations by March 15.