Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment is investigating an unknown issue with the Grand Lake water supply that sent a woman to hospital and killed two dogs.
An emergency alert was issued in the early hours of Thursday morning, telling residents with water feeds from Grand Lake to stop using the water immediately.
“Do not consume, do not drink, do not bathe, do not use to cook, do not boil, do not allow pets in the water,” it said. “Do not go in the water by foot or by boat at anytime, unless this order is rescinded.”
Roy Hollett, deputy chief of Halifax Fire, said crews were called around 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a woman went into medical distress after going into the lake.
She was rescuing a Labrador retriever, which also went into medical distress after going into the lake. Another dog, which Hollett believed to be a puppy, got close to the lake but didn’t go in, and it also went into medical distress.
One of the dogs died at the scene, while the other died at the vet. The woman was taken to hospital and is recovering there. Hollett couldn’t say what her symptoms were.
“What we’re trying to determine is what was in the lake, if it was blue-green algae or something else,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what caused this, and right now we don’t know.”
Julie Towers, the deputy minister for Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change, told reporters Thursday that staff were taking samples from the lake to test for two types of toxins produced by blue-green algae.
The water samples will be sent to a private laboratory to test for pesticides, organic and inorganic materials, as well as petroleum hydrocarbons.
“What we do know is there’s obviously a toxin,” she said.
“Whether it’s human-caused or a natural source is to be determined. So part of the investigation … is looking at a range of possible causes. Anything else is speculation.
“No matter what the cause is, right now we want people to be careful and avoid contact with the water until we can find out what’s going on.”
She said it may take some time to get the testing done, adding the department is working on a testing plan and may test some of the other lakes in the area.
Those with a shallow drilled or dug well that’s less than 30 metres deep within 60 metres of the lake are also asked to avoid using their water, the department said.
In a tweet, Nova Scotia’s Department of Land and Forestry said the water issue also affects Laurie Park and Oakfield Park. While the parks remain open, the lake is closed for swimming and boating.
Thursday afternoon, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said all commercial, recreational, food, social and ceremonial harvesting in the Grand Lake watershed, including the entire Shubenacadie River, has been closed.
Municipal water is safe
Thursday morning, Halifax Water issued a statement to say its customers aren’t impacted by the Grand Lake emergency alert.
“Halifax Water operates three small water systems within the same watershed as Grand Lake: Bomont, Collins Park, and Bennery Lake,” a release said. “None of these systems draw water from Grand Lake. Halifax Water tap water remains safe for normal use and consumption throughout HRM.”
The Municipality of East Hants also released a statement saying municipal water customers are safe. However, those who live on the lake and draw water directly from it are advised to not use it.
The municipality’s statement said those who get water from the Shubenacadie River should avoid using it out of an abundance of caution.
The municipality later said it would provide drinking water Thursday evening for residents who can’t use their water due to the Grand Lake advisory.
“The water is sourced from our water utility which remains safe to drink for all municipal water users,” it said.
They will be able to pick up water for free at the East Hants Aquatic Centre between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. People must bring their own containers to fill.
“We continue to monitor the water advisory and await updates from Nova Scotia Environment,” the statement said. “We understand this is a concerning time for residents whose direct water source is Grand Lake and will have more information on continued water access if needed.”
– with files from Philip Croucher and Dave Squires