Pilot study aims to find the cause of Peninsula Lake algae bloom

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Cyanobacteria blooms were last identified in Peninsula Lake in 2017 and a pilot study is underway to attempt to identify the cause.

An estimated 18 people attended a public meeting held at the Huntsville council chambers last week. It was held to introduce the study and gather input from stakeholders who may have information about the blooms, their frequency and locations, and photos.

If you’ve observed algae blooms on Peninsula Lake and happen to know the time and location of those blooms, or other pertinent information, those conducting the study would like to hear from you.

Stakeholders are being asked to fill out a survey or contact Emily Crowder at 705-645-6764, ext. 4313.

A causation study is a new approach adopted by the District of Muskoka in its Official Plan in order to further protect recreational water quality in lakes deemed as vulnerable. Peninsula Lake will be the first to undergo such a study, and is expected to lead the way for other similar studies on vulnerable lakes in Muskoka.

There are currently 12 lakes in Muskoka deemed as vulnerable by the District. You can find more on that in Schedule E2 of the MOP (PDF)..

“One of the first steps, when a lake is identified as vulnerable for a reason like algae bloom or long-term high levels of phosphorous or increasing levels of phosphorous, the District will undertake a causation study for that lake,” explained District director of planning  Summer Valentine to those gathered at the meeting.

She said Peninsula Lake has been chosen because it still has quite a bit of development potential, it has a strong lake association and engaged stakeholders, it spans two municipalities, and is considered vulnerable.

“We also prioritized any lake that was potentially vulnerable based on a blue-green algae bloom, it’s not only a sign of a recreational water quality issue, that’s also a potential health issue – so we prioritized those lakes as well. And then lastly, it wasn’t in the staff report but it was brought to our attention by a stakeholder afterward that Peninsula Lake is approximal to Fairy Lake which is where the municipal intake is for the Town of Huntsville. So there were a number of reasons that council decided to choose Peninsula Lake,” said Valentine.

Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. has been retained to conduct the study, which will attempt to identify the cause of the blooms that have been observed on the lake.

Project manager Kris Hadley said changes to land use, phosphorus levels, climate as well as water and sediment sample results will form part of the analysis that will try to determine the factors that have caused the blooms, identified as Gloeotrichia echinulata. While the species can be toxic, the 2017 toxin levels recorded were not above the World Health Organization guidelines, said Hadley.

Gloeotrichia echinulata is a very unique species and does not necessarily respond the same way as some of the other more common bacterial species in this area, said Hadley. He also said it appears Peninsula Lake is the only vulnerable lake with that particular species in the area.

Stakeholders offered to send photos, others questioned if there is enough statistical data to determine a cause—particularly since only three blooms had been reported in the last 90 years—others expressed concern with painting Peninsula Lake in a bad light, and one shoreline property owner said he could see the green dormant cells suspended in the water from his dock. Others questioned whether leaking septics could be part of the cause, or the filling of wetlands, while others noted that the species simply forms part of the lake, and certain conditions prompt the blooms.

They were all asked to pass on any information or concerns to Crowder and to fill out the survey.

Similar studies are expected to be conducted on other lakes deemed vulnerable by the District.

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