Sad records for the health of Quebec’s lakes

The number of lakes in very serious condition has since peaked The newspaper presents his great summer record. And the blue-green algae problems seem to be getting worse and worse.

This data is not only of concern for the environment. A lake in poor condition has a significant economic impact and can even reduce property values. This aspect is of particular interest to us in our file this year.

According to the latest 2021 data from the Voluntary Lake Monitoring Network (RSVL), 21 lakes are now in a condition of very high concern. They die somehow. When we made this first list 4 years ago, we had 15.


The trail left by a boat on Lake Saint-Augustin near Quebec shows the magnitude of the cyanobacteria problem in 2020.

Courtesy photo

The trail left by a boat on Lake Saint-Augustin near Quebec shows the magnitude of the cyanobacteria problem in 2020.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG

Lake quality monitoring is still based on fragile foundations. It depends on the work of volunteers, and this is far from all of the 3.6 million freshwater bodies in Quebec being analyzed.

In 2021, the water quality of 458 lakes was analyzed, a peak value since the RSVL was founded in 2004.


The fact that the Ministry has covered 75% of the costs for the analyzes since last year has been able to mobilize organizations that have had to pay entirely out of their own pockets.

“There is a lack of funding, there is a lack of knowledge and the RSVL, we will not hide it, it is a minimum,” regrets Mélanie Deslongchamps, director general of the AGIRO organization which intervenes in the basin slope of the Saint-Charles river in Quebec . And the citizens pay for it. It’s not an expensive follow-up for the government, but it’s not a real portrait.


Mélanie Deslongchamps, CEO of the AGIRO organization.

Photo Stevens LeBlanc

Mélanie Deslongchamps, CEO of the AGIRO organization.

The problems with cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) seem to be getting worse. “Last year was the worst year at Lac Saint-Charles,” says Ms Deslongchamps. We’ve never had as many blooms of cyanobacteria as we did last year. We talk to each other across the organization and we all said it was a big year. Lake Saint-Augustin was horrific.”

Sébastien Sauvé, professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Montreal and currently leading one of the world’s largest research projects on cyanobacteria, remains more cautious. “It’s not easy to have a quantitative assessment for all of Quebec for the full year, but there’s no indication it’s improving,” he said.


Sébastien Sauvé, a researcher at the University of Montreal, believes the lack of follow-up on cyanobacteria is a political choice.

Photo courtesy of Amélie Philibert

Sébastien Sauvé, a researcher at the University of Montreal, believes the lack of follow-up on cyanobacteria is a political choice.

A PINK LAKE

However, he mentions a disturbing phenomenon: a winter bloom of pink-colored cyanobacteria called Planktothrix rubescens has been observed under the ice of Lac Fortune in Abitibi in winter since 2020, which is rather rare.

This cyanobacterium, which can be toxic, has been observed elsewhere in the world. “But these are often one-off and non-recurring phenomena. [contrairement au lac Fortune]explains Lawrence Gervais, coordinator of the watershed organization Témiscamingue (OBV).


Lake Fortune turned an amazing pink color last winter due to a potentially toxic cyanobacterium.

Photo courtesy of the Lac Fortune Association

Lake Fortune turned an amazing pink color last winter due to a potentially toxic cyanobacterium.


Photo courtesy of the Lac Fortune Association

Researchers at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue are still trying to determine the causes. Since the ministry had no staff to sample the lake, the OBV went on site. The local association is also very active.

“We find it unfortunate that there is no structured program in the Ministry of Environment for this type of problem, we are improvising,” admits Ms Gervais, noting, however, that the work is progressing well and is being carried out by researchers who will be able to to produce rigorous scientific data.

The number of reports exploded


The number of reports from citizens about cyanobacteria to the ministry has increased by 334% in two years, from 61 to 265 between 2019 and 2021.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Environment has not monitored the number of affected bodies of water for 5 years. It only focuses on the most sensitive.

“Since 2017, the Ministry has therefore no longer kept records of the water bodies concerned,” explains the publicist Caroline Cloutier.

The inspectors only move out if a report concerns a lake in which no cyanobacteria were known to exist or which is used, for example, for drinking water supply.

Despite the increase in reports, the ministry visited just six lakes in 2021, one more than in 2019, a year when there were four times fewer reports. The presence of cyanobacteria was confirmed in four of the six bodies of water.

AGRICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

In the absence of follow-up, no one can say whether the increase in reports reflects an intensification of the phenomenon or simply an increase in the number of people affected following media coverage of the problem.

The ministry says it is instead focusing its interventions on the sources of phosphorus excretion, which are the main cause of blue-green algae.

These sources include, for example, “slurry application on agricultural land, municipal sewage treatment plants or sewage treatment plants”. In addition, the number of controls carried out in the agricultural sector has doubled since 2019.

But this strategy does not provide a portrait of the development of the problem. “We talked a lot about reducing phosphorus, so the communities of cyanobacteria that loved phosphorus kind of disappeared. but [les cyanobactéries] who like nitrogen are given preference because we have not worked with nitrogen,” emphasizes Mélanie Deslongchamps, Managing Director of AGIRO.

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