Quamichan algae threat to human, animal health

Humans should not have skin contact with water from Quamichan Lake while blooms of toxic blue-green algae are on the lake

Humans should not have skin contact with, and certainly not drink, water from Quamichan Lake while blooms of toxic blue-green algae are on the lake as it could impact their health, according to Dr. Paul Hasselback.

Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said the lake is not a drinking water source for any homes in the neighbourhood, and it’s unlikely that people would drink from it while the vile looking and tasting algae is growing on its surface.

He said most people would also avoid swimming in it or have any of the lake’s water have contact with their skin for the same reason.

Hasselback said that, unfortunately, pets have no such aversions to the lake’s water, so owners must take steps to keep them from contact with it.

The number of dog deaths reported in recent weeks from ingesting the water has now reached four, and local authorities have begun steps to protect humans and animals around Quamichan Lake, including posting signs warning of the dangers.

“There’s not a lot of options to treat the lake other than the surrounding community having to deal with the amount of nutrients that enter into it,” Hasselback said.

“Quamichan Lake is susceptible to these algae blooms and it’s not the only lake that that this is happening to in the region. The message has to get out there that people and animals should not have contact with the water.”

Elk Lake and Beaver Lake in the Capital Regional District have also recently tested positive for the toxic algae, which produces a blue-green sheen that appears as surface scum.

Ingesting water containing the toxins may cause of a range of symptoms, including headaches and abdominal pain in humans, and can lead to lethal liver damage in animals.

The Municipality of North Cowichan has posted signs around the lake to warn people of the dangers, and the municipality has also notified all the property owners who are affected.

The Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society, which has a mandate to respond to the continuously declining health of Quamichan Lake, will be meeting officials at the Municipality of North Cowichan early this month to discuss the issue.

Many point to the amount of nutrients that have built up at the bottom of the shallow lake from fertilizers making their way into it from agricultural sites on one side, and work on housing developments on the other side of the lake as the main cause of the algae problem.