Sad records for the health of Quebec's lakes

Sad records for the health of Quebec’s lakes

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

These data are not only worrying for the environment. A lake in poor condition has significant economic impacts and can even reduce property values. We are especially interested in this aspect this year in our archive.

According to the most recent data from the Voluntary Lake Monitoring Network (RSVL), by the year 2021, there are already 21 lakes in a very worrying state. They are like dying. 4 years ago, when we made this first list, we had 15.


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

courtesy photo

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

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

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

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


The fact that the Department assumes, since last year, 75% of the cost of the analyzes has managed to mobilize organizations that had to pay entirely out of pocket.

“There is a lack of funding, lack of knowledge and RSVL, we will not hide it, it is a minimum,” laments Mélanie Deslongchamps, general director of the AGIRO organization, which intervenes in the Santo slope basin. -Charles River in Quebec. And it is the citizens who pay for it. It’s not too expensive a 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.

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) problems seem to be getting worse. “Last year was the worst year at Lac Saint-Charles,” says Ms Deslongchamps. We have never had as many cyanobacterial blooms as last year. We talked between organizations and we all told each other that it was a great year. Lake Saint-Augustin was appalling.”

Sébastien Sauvé, professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Montreal, who is currently leading one of the largest research projects on cyanobacteria in the world, is more cautious. “It’s not easy to have a year-round quantitative assessment for all of Quebec, but there’s no indication that it’s getting better,” he said.


Sébastien Sauvé, a researcher at the University of Montreal, believes that the lack of monitoring of cyanobacteria is a political choice.

Photo courtesy of Amélie Philibert

Sébastien Sauvé, a researcher at the University of Montreal, believes that the lack of monitoring of cyanobacteria is a political choice.

A PINK LAKE

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

This cyanobacterium, which can be toxic, has already been observed in other parts of the world. “But often these are single, non-recurring phenomena. [contrairement au lac Fortune]explains Lawrence Gervais, coordinator of the Témiscamingue river basin organization (OBV).


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

Photo courtesy of the Lac Fortune Association

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


Photo courtesy of the Lac Fortune Association

Researchers at the University of Quebec at Abitibi-Témiscamingue are still trying to establish the cause. Since the Ministry did not have an employee to sample the lake, the OBV went to the site. The local association is also very involved.

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

The number of reports skyrockets


The number of complaints of cyanobacteria to the Ministry by citizens has shot up 334% in two years, going from 61 to 265 between 2019 and 2021.

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

“Therefore, since 2017, the Ministry no longer keeps a record of the affected water bodies,” specifies the publicist Caroline Cloutier.

Inspectors move only if a report concerns a lake not yet known to have cyanobacteria or if it is used to supply drinking water, for example.

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

AGRICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

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

The Department explains that it focuses its interventions instead on sources of phosphorus discharge, which are the main cause of blue-green algae.

These sources include, for example, “manure spreading in agricultural areas, municipal water treatment works, or septic systems.” In addition, since 2019 the number of inspections carried out in the agricultural sector has doubled.

But this strategy does not provide a picture of the evolution of the problem. “We talk a lot about phosphorus reduction, so the communities of cyanobacteria that loved phosphorus have disappeared. But [les cyanobactéries] those who like nitrogen are favored because we have not worked with nitrogen”, emphasizes Mélanie Deslongchamps, CEO of AGIRO.

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