Tests show high toxin rate in Quamichan Lake

BC Aquifer, which does water inspections and tests, has confirmed that the water in Quamichan Lake is heavy in cyanotoxins.

BC Aquifer, which does water inspections and tests around the province, has 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.

There have been at least four reported dog deaths around Quamichan Lake in recent weeks, all suspected to be caused by ingesting the algae from the lake.

Dr. Lyn Pascoe, a family physician who lives close to Quamichan Lake, lost her border collie Austin after he dipped his legs in the water on Oct. 11 and tried to lick the algae off.

She sent water samples from the lake to BC Aquifer and recently received the results of the tests.

Pascoe said most of the residents who live close to Quamichan Lake don’t intend to move because of the water issue.

Pascoe is hoping that regular monitoring and testing of the lake’s water for toxins will now be implemented so the residents will know when to stay away from it.

She said Elk Lake and Beaver Lake in the Capital Regional District have also recently tested positive for the toxic algae and the CRD is now monitoring those lakes on a regular basis, so she sees no reason why regular testing can’t be done at Quamichan Lake as well.

Pascoe said members of the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society are scheduled to meet with officials from the Municipality of North Cowichan today to discuss the issue, and a decision to regularly monitor the lake could be one of the results.

“As well, a small group of us from the area are gathering evidence about the lake and working to make ourselves scientifically aware of how other jurisdictions are dealing with this issue,” she said.

“Quamichan Lake is not like this all the time and is not always unsafe, so we’re working on gaining some expertise ourselves on how best to deal with it.”

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.

Roger Hart, chairman of the QWSS, said the first thing that must be determined is if the high-toxin levels currently in the lake are an isolated incident that will soon fix itself, or will continue for some time.

“All we have at this time is a result from a water sample that was taken at one point in time, so we’re going to recommend to the Municipality of North Cowichan that somebody begin regular testing similar to what is happening in the Capital Regional District,” Hart said.

“I think Island Health should play an important part in these tests as well, and I imagine that will be part of our meeting with the municipality.”

Hart said that, ultimately, the society would like to see what short-term solutions the municipality would consider, including adding certain compounds to the lake that would halt the production of algae.

He said the trick is to gather scientific input as to what would be appropriate for the lake.

“We’re also looking for some long-term solutions that would strike the right balance between the construction of new developments in the area and the protection of the lake,” Hart said.

“Some people who are studying the problem believe it wouldn’t take much of a decrease in the amount of nutrients entering the lake to flush it out.”

Ernie Mansueti, North Cowichan’s director of parks and recreation, said the meeting with the QWSS was scheduled long before the current algae outbreak occurred in the lake, and was intended to deal with a range of issues involving Lake Quamichan.

He said the municipality is not the landowner of the lake and that makes the situation “more complicated”.

“We are going to work to resolve this problem, and whether that will involve testing and the placing of signs around the lake has yet to be determined,” Mansueti said. “Island Health has indicated that it wants to be part of the meetings regarding the lake moving forward.”