Robert's column

Robert Barron column: Olympics have put a spotlight on Quamichan Lake, but what about the algae?

No amount of advertising dollars could put such a great spotlight on the Cowichan region

Hearing North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring call Canada’s national rowing team a “home-town team” as it competes in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo delighted me to the core.

Siebring made the comment at the council meeting on July 21 in which Terry Dillon, CEO of Rowing Canada, thanked North Cowichan and the entire community of the Cowichan Valley for their support as the nation’s best rowers compete in the ongoing Olympics.

Dozens of Canada’s most competitive rowers have trained on Quamichan Lake since Rowing Canada decided in 2019 to build its first-ever purpose-built National Training Centre there and, as Dillon pointed out to North Cowichan’s council, every major decision on who to send to the Olympics as part of Canada’s national rowing team was made on Quamichan Lake.

That means hundreds of people, including trainers, family members, rowing fans and the rowers themselves, have been coming to the Cowichan Valley from all over Canada for the past two years to watch or participate in the training on Quamichan Lake.

No amount of advertising dollars could put such a great spotlight on the Cowichan region as when these visitors go back to their homes and tell their families and communities what a beautiful paradise we have here.

And make no mistake, take it from a guy who has lived across this big country, this is one of the best regions to live in.

But Quamichan Lake has some serious issues with blue-green algae that may have negative repercussions for the continued use of it as a training ground for the nation’s best rowers down the road.

There had been at least four reported dog deaths around the lake in recent years, with all suspected to be caused by ingesting toxic blue-green algae that is growing and spreading in the water.

If any of our visiting rowing athletes got sick from the algae during the many long hours they spend training on the lake, it could lead to some second thoughts on Rowing Canada’s decision to make it a base for its national rowing programs.

North Cowichan, in whose jurisdiction the lake resides, decided in 2016 to set up the Quamichan Lake Water Quality Task Force, consisting of staff and council members, along with water specialists, to study and seek solutions to the algae.

The task force concluded the nutrients that are causing the algae outbreak in the lake are coming mainly from a number of sources, including urban runoff, and runoff from nearby agricultural lands, construction areas and logging sites.

Last February, after years of study and work in the community, North Cowichan’s senior environment specialist Dr. Dave Preikshot told council that significant progress has been made in controlling phosphorus entering the lake by working with stewardship groups to enhance riparian vegetation, managing stormwater through wetlands and detention ponds, and the establishment of zeolite/limestone nutrient traps around Quamichan Lake on a pilot basis.

Preikshot said the physics of the lake must also be understood, including its temperatures and oxygen levels, to help deal with the problem, and sediment core samples that are to be taken from its bottom this summer are expected to provide detailed answers so the municipality can begin to select the management options to best control the algae blooms.

It sounds like an expensive proposition for North Cowichan and its taxpayers to handle on its own.

But the management of lakes and other water bodies in B.C. falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction, so it’s time for Victoria, and also Ottawa, to step up and provide some expertise and funding as well, particularly since Quamichan Lake is now a centre of Rowing Canada’s training grounds.

Rowing Canada’s decision to come here is doing wonders in putting a spotlight on the Cowichan Valley and what we have to offer.

It would be shame if we lost it.

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