I have been focussing much attention on the problem of blue-green algae fouling many of our lakes since 2008 but many others have been drawing attention to this issue for several decades. The reason I’m drawing attention to the timeline is that although there is increasing attention through “talk” there is still far too little action to address the problem. This is a problem that is measurable – we can measure the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen entering our lakes via the many streams and rivers that flow into them and we can measure the actual concentration of those nutrients in the lake’s water. So if we have the tools and knowledge to measure, we can determine fairly accurately whether we are making progress in decreasing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen entering the waters.
It is true that there are several factors that affect the flow of these nutrients including the weather in any given year. If there is heavy snowfall or rainstorms, we know that will increase the amount running off the landscape via floods, storm-water overflows of sewage, etc. We also know now that legacy phosphorus (phosphorus that sinks to the bottom of the lakes into the sediments) is contributing to growing algal problems in some lakes. Another contributing factor of climate change is the increase in the number of ice-free days on many lakes, making a longer growing season for algae.
But even with these various factors, it is still possible and reasonable to set specific, measurable goals for nutrient reduction in various actions that are being undertaken. For example if there is an upgrade to a sewage treatment system it is reasonable to measure the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the effluent. If there is a restored or constructed wetland, it is possible to measure the amount of nutrients in the streams running out of the wetland.
So isn’t it time to get very serious about addressing this problem by setting measurable goals and expecting annual accountability on results? In Manitoba, Premier Selinger announced a goal in 2011 of reducing the phosphorus concentration in the south basin of the lake to .05mg/L. The current average over the past 4 years is about .112 mg/L (Water Quality Management Section 2015,Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship,123 Main Street, Suite 160,Winnipeg MB R3C 1A5). This is an admirable goal but we need to set the annual goals on the various actions that will contribute to meeting the overall goal.
I know from experience that setting an end goal is very important but doing the work to determine how to meet that goal is essential if you’re serious about it. Its long past time to expect specific, measurable targets for nutrient reduction from the various sectors that are contributing to the problem and to expect annual reporting on results. Surely having clean, safe water in our lakes is worth that effort.