A Little P can cause Big Problems

1 March 2013

Herewith a few CyanoAlerts to start off March!

A newcomer to Droplets CyanoAlert is Ella Lake – which is in Northern Ontario, rural Canada, one of dozens of lakes just south of the Trans Canada Highway.  Ella has a reported blue-green algal bloom – despite having very low levels of phosphorus (see graphic below) – illustrating the important fact that a little nutrient enrichment can cause a big problem.  Such low levels of Phosphorus is the stuff of dreams for us here in South Africa!

Annual Total Phosphorus levels for Ella Lake, Sudbury, Canada (Source: Greater Grand Sudbury)

Annual Total Phosphorus levels for Ella Lake, Sudbury, Canada (Source: Greater Grand Sudbury)

A bit to the west, Pigeon Lake in Alberta is to benefit from a Lake & Watershed (= catchment) Management Plan = good, sensible approach dealing with the causes and the symptoms.  Canada has always had a good handle on lake management, which makes their decision to close the Experimental Lakes Area station all the more worrying.

With a multitude of factors that affect the quality of water, the ecosystem and life within and surrounding Pigeon Lake, the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association (PLWA) is undertaking a Pigeon Lake Watershed Management Plan (PLWMP).    According to the PLWA’s terms of reference document, the goal of their management plan is to “promote the watershed’s natural environment and water quality by recommending action-oriented watershed policies and best practices that support the long-term health, protection and restoration of the watershed.” 

“When it comes to the watershed management controls, we can help the lake in two ways.  One, we can make healthy lake decisions to stop the addition of negative cumulative impacts to the lake, and two, we can enhance the lakes own natural systems to be healthy.”  explained Susan Ellis, president of the PLWA. 

The path the PLWA is on began with the State of the Watershed report they commissioned from Aquality Environmental Consulting Ltd. in 2008.  This report identified some of the conditions and main issues affecting the quality of the lake. They included: 

• Deteriorating water quality; nutrient loading
• Toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms
• Declining fish stocks, fish die-offs; changing fish populations and size
• Shoreline (riparian zone) degradation and habitat loss; loss of wetlands; shoreline erosion
• Higher density development around the lake and its effects on the watershed; stormwater runoff; wastewater management
• Oil and gas activity and operations
• Agricultural practices

From Northern City, Oklahoma, we find yet another example of a political appointee opposing something he clearly does not really understand:

Despite opposition from two council members, the council Tuesday passed an ordinance that regulates the use of phosphorus-based fertilizers, believed to be a significant cause of too much algae growth at Lake Thunderbird.

Phosphorus gets washed into the lake from parts of Norman, Moore and Oklahoma City, causing the proliferation of algae. Algae produces chlorophyll-a, which can introduce toxins into the water. City officials say Lake Thunderbird has more than three times the amount of chlorophyll-a allowed by the federal Clean Water Act.

Councilman Dave Spaulding said he opposed the ordinance regulating phosphorus-based fertilizers “because it is vague, unenforceable … and another example of government intrusion.” (!)

Spaulding and Councilman Chad Williams voted against the ordinance, which restricts the application of phosphorus-based fertilizers to the first six months of turf establishment from seed or sod or unless soil samples taken from a lawn or specific area indicate the soil is deficient in phosphorus.

Down south in New Zealand, where it may be a bit warmer than northern Canada (but 2013 seems to be chilling down so fast in the south that maybe not), public health warnings are still in place for the Opihi River (South Canterbury), while Australia’s Lake Boga – which is where the flying boats landed during WWII (nice museum there for those interested) – reportedly has high levels of our dear friends the cyanobacteria (= blue-green algae).  Some blue-greens are still hanging on in parts of the Rotorua Lakes where Lake Okaro has a serious bloom.  An algal bloom is also present in the Waimea River (Tasman).

A newcomer to Droplets is Ascarate Lake in El Paso, Texas (welcome Ascarate Lake!).  Droplets readers will recall the problems (late 2012) in the US southwest as a result of golden algae (the toxic to fish Prymnesium parvum) – which has apparently now re-appeared in Ascarate.


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