Cyanobacteria Bloom in Lake Erie – an EcoJustice Report

View of the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie from space (NASA)

In the early fall of 2011, the Vermilion River had a Cyanobacteria outbreak that affected several interconnected lakes, and lasted until the heavy rains came in late October.   This outbreak was extremely disturbing to local residents who use water from the Vermilion for their daily household needs, and also for those who use the river for swimming and fishing.   Cyanobacteria can be highly toxic and poses a life threat to people and animals.

The long warm summer and fall season most likely was a big part of the problem, however, the nine sewage treatment plants dumping treated, and sometimes partially or untreated effluent into the Vermilion River Watershed might also be fueling the problem.   A 2009 EcoJustice Report pointed out the City of Sudbury as the fourth highest City in Ontario for dumping partially treated and untreated waste water effluent into the environment.   Since then the City of Sudbury Waste Water Treatment staff have made an exerted effort to improve their record, and we thank them for that.  However, it is now up to the City and taxpayers to step up to the plate and ensure that tax dollars are invested in upgrades to our local Waste Water Treatment Facilities to include tertiary treatment – a third level of treatment in the process.  Also City storm water must drain into storm water holding areas instead of being released directly into the Vermilion River system.

As you can see by the above picture, cyanobacteria is also becoming a major problem in the Great Lakes, because of global warming.  This is causing warmer water temperatures, and heavy rains which can overwhelm waste water treatment facilities, washing effluent and fertilizers, etc., into our watersheds, and ultimately into the Great Lakes.  Please check out the EcoJustice website which has an excellent article addressing this problem.   Click here to go to the article.

Lively/Walden Waste Water Treatment Facilities undergoing a Class “C” Environmental Assessment

The Lively/Walden Waste Water Treatment Facilities are in Phase 3 of a Class “C” Environmental Assessment, and Consultants are very close to taking their preferred plan to City Council for their approval.   I was asked to make a presentation to the Lake Advisory Panel on October 13, 2011, and I have included my presentation for your information.

Blue Green Algae on the Vermilion River System

It is time to recognize that the cumulative effects of dumping effluent from 9 waste water treatment plants into the Vermilion River Watershed is having dangerous effects on the Vermilion River and its connecting lakes.  Cyanobacteria, or Blue Green Algae, has been reported all the way from Simon Lake, McCharles Lake, into the Vermilion River system, and as far down as Wabagishik Lake.  Many citizens rely on the Vermilion River for their drinking water, for bathing, food preparation, and it has been very costly and frightening.  Cyanobacteria produce toxins that are at least a nuisance, but at their worst are life threatening to people, pets and wildlife.

There are currently 4 proposals for hydroelectric dams going through the Environmental Assessment (EA) process, and Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario, states in his 2007/8 Annual Report that “the EA process is broken, and there is no possibility of a no outcome”.   The EA process is a developer- led process, and developers are placed in charge of deciding what the public should and shouldn’t know, how they are going to conduct their field studies, and how much environmental flow will be left in the river.    There is a huge incentive for the developer to wring every possible drop out of the river to earn that 50% peaking bonus.  Our government has virtually put the fox in charge of the Chicken Koop.

These types of dams will hold water back for up to 48 hours to produce power during peak demand hours at a 50% bonus to the developer, and are purported to produce Green Energy, but in fact produce “Dirty Energy”.  There are numerous studies to back up this claim, including ones by Health Canada and MNR.  Water levels and flow have been so low these last few summers that it is hard to imagine how a developer could make money producing energy on these rivers, and they actually couldn’t without the peaking bonus offered by the FIT Program.

We are already having trouble with Cyanobacteria on the Vermilion River without these dams.  But what will happen when river water has been sitting in a head pond for up to 48 hours, has an opportunity to warm in the sun for a few days, and has the additional loading of 5 upstream waste water treatment facilities pumping their effluent into this upper arm of the Vermilion River?     And then, this water blends with the additional 4 waste water plants pumping effluent from the Simon Lake end of the Vermilion River Watershed.

For the protection of its citizens, Sudbury City Council must ensure these dams are not built!    There are 13,000 people alone receiving water from the Vale Public Water Intake on this upper arm of the Vermilion, not to mention the people living along the Vermilion River system who rely on this water for their daily needs.

Sudbury must also take positive steps, in a timely fashion, towards ensuring that all nine of their Waste Water Treatment Facilities are equipped with tertiary treatment – primary and secondary treatment is no longer adequate with Climate Change now upon us.

We must ensure healthy river systems and clean water for our future generations.

Linda Heron

Chair, Vermilion River Stewardship

“Community Supporting a Healthy, Natural and Sustainable River System”

Blue Green Algae Outbreak on the Vermilion River

On September 30, 2011, it was reported that green blobs of something that looked suspiciously like Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as Blue Green Algae, was seen floating on the Vermilion River.  A few days later the Ministry of Environment confirmed our suspicions.    In an attempt to find the source of this outbreak the writer visited Centennial Park to observe the conditions on the northern arm of the Vermilion, and that water looked quite clear, however, upon visiting Mud Lake, Kelly Lake, Simon Lake and McCharles Lakes, the Blue Green Algae was also observed in Simon and McCharles Lakes.   MOE has subsequently confirmed the outbreak on McCharles, however, based on a picture sent to the officer, he chose not to take a sample on Simon Lake – and it was the Friday before the long weekend after all.   However, it was reported that a dead goose was found on the public beach next to the sighting, and there were also reports of dead suckers found floating on Simon.   It is not surprising to hear that residents further downstream, on Wabagishik Lake, are also reporting the presence of this blue green scum there as well.  MOE has not been called out to take a sample there, and so it is not confirmed.

Blue Green Algae blooms, can be highly toxic to people, pets and wildlife, so precautions must be taken.  To learn more about how this will affect those people using river water for drinking, swimming, washing, or even eating fish from the river, then you will find some excellent information at Sudbury and District Health Department, and/or Health Canada.    Ministry of the Environment also has an excellent pamphlet Blue-green Algae – Information for Cottagers and Home Owners to round out your knowledge on this subject.

You can also check out this excellent slide presentation made by Charles Ramcharan, of Laurentian University’s Fresh Water Ecology Unit, at our Stewardship meeting held on Tuesday, 11 October 2011.

Charles Ramcharan’s Presentation on Cyanobacteria
(click on “Expand” below to view):

Cyanobacteria - Blue Green Algae Bloom found on Vermilion River

Cyanobacteria - Blue Green Algae - Found on Simon Lake