Quamichan Lake made national headlines in October after a border collie named Austin and three other dogs died after ingesting water from the lake. (File photo)

Quamichan Lake made national headlines in October after a border collie named Austin and three other dogs died after ingesting water from the lake. (File photo)

Column: Quamichan Lake needs fixing before tragedy strikes

Robert’s column

Jim Cosh was very thorough and concise with the assessment of the health of Quamichan Lake that was prepared for the Municipality of North Cowichan and presented on Wednesday.

Cosh, a member of the recently formed Quamichan Lake Water Quality Task Force, provided the history of the lake and its ongoing problems with excessive nutrients, and suggested ways it can be mitigated.

But Cosh, who has been dealing with the lake’s issues as a member of the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society since 2006, pointed out that there is no silver bullet to deal with high nutrient levels in the lake, and council should consider a variety of strategies to deal with it.

Council decided unanimously at its Wednesday meeting to move forward with the strategies.

They include the establishment of a program to manage and reduce nutrient loading in the lake, extensive monitoring to determine the effectiveness of the strategies to reduce the nutrients, and the introduction of a public education program on the issue, including the posting of signs around the lake.

To be more specific, among the strategies it’s expected that construction sites in the area will have to better control and monitor their run-off to the lake, residents will likely be asked to lower the amount of fertilizers they use on their lawns, and those with septic fields around the lake could be called on to hook up to the local sewer systems.

The lake made national headlines last October when Dr. Lyn Pascoe, a family physician, lost her beloved six-year-old border collie Austin after he dipped his legs in its waters.

Pascoe told me at the time that Austin came out of the water with florescent-green algae on his legs that he may have licked and ingested it before she removed the substance with a thorough cleaning in the tub.

Pascoe said Austin began throwing up that night and went into seizures the next day before he finally died.

She said her veterinarian determined the cause of death to be liver damage.

Around the same time, at least three other dogs died after being in and around the lake, which is being increasingly surrounded by residential developments.

After testing, BC Aquifer confirmed that the water in Quamichan Lake was 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, chairman of the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society, told me at the time that the health of Quamichan Lake has been going downhill for decades, and the fear was that it has finally hit the tipping point.

He said the cause of the problem is likely the amount of nutrients that have built up at the bottom of the shallow lake; the result of a combination of fertilizers making their way into the lake from agricultural sites on one side, and work on housing and other developments on the other side of the lake.

He said settling ponds and bioswales, landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, have been constructed around the lake over the years in ongoing efforts to try and deal with the problem.

But the death of the four dogs was a clear indication that these measures were not sufficient.

It’s estimated that approximately 2,000 kilograms of nutrients enter the lake each year and Cosh said if we can lessen that amount just enough to reach the point at which the amount draining away from the lake is more than what is coming in, it could go a long way to achieving some significant results.

With more and more residents moving into that area, with all their children and pets in tow, it’s imperative that the municipality get a handle on the health of the lake as quickly as possible.

While it’s sad to see dogs die after ingesting the lake’s water, it would be so much more tragic if a child fell seriously ill, or died, from being in or around the lake.