The Shuswap Watershed Council says having two large-scale, long-lasting algae blooms in Shuswap Lake in just three years is unprecedented.
Now the group is looking to draw attention to the water quality issue in the Interior B.C. lake and is calling on the province to take more action.
“The province has come up with some guidelines and we are asking them to monitor and enforce, where they can, the guidelines that they were coming up with,” said Jay Simpson, Shuswap Watershed Council chair.
“It was a challenge in that we didn’t have a whole bunch of information about the specifics of the toxins or the algae right away. With testing from Interior Health and various other provincial agencies we found out that they weren’t toxic but had the potential to be,” Simpson said.
Even when not toxic, Simpson said the algae blooms are unpleasant and can harm the area’s tourism economy.
“The tourists are asking us questions about it and they are saying if this is going to happen this regularly, we are going to have to find somewhere else to go,” Simpson said.
Ultimately, the watershed council chair believes the blooms pose an existential threat to the lake.
Warm, calm water and the presence of large amounts of nutrients like phosphorous help create the right conditions for algae blooms.
Simpson said urban and agricultural areas near the Shuswap and Salmon Rivers are a significant source of the phosphorous flowing into the Shuswap Lake each year that could be feeding the algae blooms.
Earlier this month, Simpson wrote to the provincial environment minister asking for more details about various actions the province is taking on the issue and urging the minister to act quickly on the issue.
“They have an agricultural strategy for keeping these nutrients out of the lake but it has not been totally implemented yet. That is a phased-in approach that really comes into effect more in 2025,” Simpson said.
“We just want to make sure that they are on the ball and have what is required in order to monitor and keep the lake safe.”
In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said water quality objectives were recently established for Shuswap Lake and the lake will be monitored.
The ministry added that it is also concerned about the increasing phosphorus concentrations in the Salmon River, which the watershed council believes is contributing to the algae blooms, and will be looking further into the sources of nutrients in the Salmon River Watershed and the Salmon Arm Bay of Shuswap Lake.
On the prevention side, the province said it’s been doing outreach to agricultural producers about a code of practice that phases in nutrient management rules for farms.
That code of practice includes additional requirements like nutrient management plans and field phosphorus testing for “vulnerable aquifers and phosphorus-affected areas in watersheds around the Shuswap Lake.”
For its part, the Shuswap Watershed Council is providing grants to farmers to help them reduce the nutrients going into waterways.
Lakefront property owners can also do their part by ensuring septic systems are working correctly, Simpson said.
“The lake is our economic driver…so anything that is going to impact the quality of the water or the ability to go out and enjoy it, is a critical thing for everybody around the lake,” Simpson said.