Homeowners and boaters, as well as industry, are included in a new action plan to protect water quality in Shuswap Lake.
The Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) has released its Phosphorus Action Plan, which recommends actions that can be taken to protect water quality by reducing the amount of phosphorus released into the watershed.
According to the SWC, the plan summarizes existing phosphorus regulations and bylaws, and identifies new, innovative solutions. Though the plan is not a regulation, the SWC intends it to be informational and educational, encouraging steps “everyone in the Shuswap watershed can take to reduce their ‘phosphorus footprint.’”
“We are all stewards of the watershed, and we can all play a part in protecting our water quality whether we are agriculturalists or silviculturists; building or maintaining roads; tending to parks, lawns and gardens; choosing household products and minding what we flush down our drains; properly maintaining septic systems; and more,” says the SWC in the plan.
In a media release, the SWC explains phosphorus is a mineral nutrient essential to many forms of life and found in all kinds of ecosystems. However, when there are excessive amounts of phosphorous in aquatic environments, it can cause an increase in algal growth, reduce water clarity, create odours and reduce the quality of water for drinking and recreation. In a worst-case scenario it can lead to harmful algal blooms that are toxic to people, pets, and livestock.
The Salmon arm of Shuswap Lake has experienced two widespread, long-lasting algal blooms in the last three years: this year and in 2020, noted the SWC. Both blooms have been attributed to influxes of phosphorus into the lake, as well as other factors.
“To have two large algal blooms occur in three years is unprecedented,” said SWC chair Jay Simpson. “We are very concerned about the health of the lake. We know residents are also very concerned and they’re wondering what can be done to protect the lake from future algal blooms.”
The 16-page action plan lists voluntary actions and best practices for residents and industry sectors to minimize their phosphorus footprint. It also explains the sources of phosphorous in the Shuswap watershed and summarizes an extensive regulatory framework for phosphorous.
Recommended actions are broken down based on who they’re targeted at. Some are specific to the SWC, while others are for farms and the agriculture sector. Several are recommended for the forest industry and for wastewater treatment operators. Another section of actions are for home and waterfront property owners and boaters. Among them, making sure septic systems are working properly; keeping soap (from washing cars, outside decks, etc.) from going into storm drains; and minimizing boat wake to prevent erosion, especially when boating on rivers.
Actions recommended for farms/agricultural operations include specifics around nutrient management, exploring opportunities for regenerative agriculture and use of cover crops, developing an Environmental Farm Plan and investigating opportunities for new technologies.
“We are all stewards of Shuswap Lake,” said SWC program manager Erin Vieira. “There are things everyone can do to help protect water quality whether you’re working in agriculture or silviculture; building or maintain roads; tending to parks, lawns and gardens; or managing your household wastewater.”
The Phosphorus Action Plan is available on the SWC’s website, shuswapwater.ca.
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