The Shuswap Watershed Council has released its 2019 water quality report. (Mike Simpson photo)

Algae bloom highlights nutrient concerns in Shuswap water quality report

Shuswap Watershed Council releases 2019 water quality report

Algae blooms are among the items addressed in a water quality report that, in general, speaks well of the watershed, but highlights areas of concern still to be addressed.

The Shuswap Watershed Council’s (SWC) water quality report for 2019 is now public. That its release should occur while an algae bloom is visible throughout a large portion of Shuswap Lake was not lost on the council.

“It’s not unusual for small algal blooms to occur in Shuswap Lake, and other lakes in the region,” says SWC lead and spokesperson Erin Vieira in a media release accompanying the report. “Algae are a natural part of a lake ecosystem. However, the blooms that we’re experiencing this year have persisted for longer than they typically do in Shuswap Lake.” The report explains algae blooms occur when the number of algae rapidly increase due to a change in conditions in the lake, such as an influx of nutrients or sunlight.

Nutrients phosphorous and nitrogen are vital to an aquatic ecosystem, the report reads, but excessive nutrients can lead to algae growth, a reduction in water clarity, odours and compromise the quality of drinking water.

The report addresses water quality in local lakes and rivers, and summarizes a recently completed three-year nutrient research project the SWC did with researchers at UBC Okanagan. It states the largest loads of nutrients entering Shuswap Lake were coming from the Shuswap and Salmon rivers, and notes nutrient concentrations in Mara Lake have been trending upwards since the 1990s.

Read more: Algae bloom in Shuswap Lake deemed large but low risk

Read more: Shuswap Lake algae bloom being monitored, not considered harmful

Columbia Shuswap Regional District Electoral Area C director and SWC chair Paul Demenok said work is now being done to develop new ways to mitigate the amount of nutrients flowing into Shuswap and Mara lakes so that, ultimately, the frequency and severity of blooms don’t increase.

“Our research with UBC-Okanagan has shown us where we need to focus our efforts,” said Demenok. “This year, we are working with four farms in the Salmon River Valley and two stewardship organizations to support new nutrient management initiatives.”

Also covered within the report are the ongoing efforts to address Eurasian water milfoil in Shuswap Lake and keep out other invasives such as quagga and zebra mussels. The report notes the temperature, pH and calcium concentrations of Shuswap Lake make it well suited for mussels. The typical high influx of boats in the summertime add to the risk.

“Zebra and quagga mussels are two species of fresh-water mussels native to Europe and Asia with tremendous destructive potential due to their ability to attach to any object in the water: boats, water supply pipes, irrigation systems, dock pilings, hydro-electric facilities, and more,” reads the report.

The SWC adds that so far the Shuswap watershed is free of invasive mussels, and that the most important preventative measures are for boat owners to always clean, drain and dry their boat whenever they move it out of a lake or river.

The water quality report can be found at shuswapwater.ca. Print copies of the report will soon be available from all municipal, First Nations and regional government offices and at library branches across the Shuswap.

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