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The meeting was organized to present and discuss the collaborative efforts made by Renaissance Lac Brome, the Town of Lac Brome, the Ministry of the Environment, the University of Sherbrooke and of course the citizens regarding the well being of Brome Lake and its watershed in relationship to other Eastern Townships waterways affected with water-quality problems.
As with many issues relating to health and the environment the invited panel made it clear that each and every resident must take responsibility for the health of the lake!
Brome Lake town councilor Larry Fairholm told the crowd that it all "starts at home. Stop using phosphorus detergents and soaps, replant your shorelines. Don't use chemical or organic fertilizers or pesticides, period."
Perhaps some good advice but surely there must be more phosphorus laden detergents coming out of a cosmetics bottling plant like Les Emballages Knowlton and more organic fertilizer (also known as duck shit) being dumped in the watershed by the Brome Lake Duck Farm then by the average family of four living on St. Paul street?
Take a look at the lakefront properties on Brome Lake and what do we see? There are many large areas where shoreline vegetation has been razed in favor of manicured lawns and foreign flowers and plants. Perfectly trimmed and lush greens of three golf-courses surround Lac Brome and while there may be some laws in place from the Ministry of the Environment to restrict the usage of fertilizers many of these laws have no teeth…akin to enforcing an Olympic anti-doping law.
One aspect of human nature is that we demand our freedom! To a certain extent…we want to be free to do as we please.
We all want to be free from lung-cancer but if the Government raises the cost of cigarettes then smokers complain and if they ban smoking in public places then business owners complain and if they ban cigarettes completely then the manufacturers complain and layoff hundreds of people. So the government tries to keep all side happy saying: buy the cigarettes but don't smoke in public and your cigarette packs have ugly demonstrative images of sick lungs printed as warnings.
We want to be free of polluted lakes but we all want to be able to have an SUV and a have a lovely lawn and be able to fly to Florida for the winter and commute to Montreal so we can live in Knowlton and when all this massive consumption of petroleum and natural resources starts to cause climactic changes in the planet we want to yell at the Government and say "Do something about it!"
Whatever solution that the Government suggests to dealing with the problems of water quality and blue-green algae or cyanobacteria in the Eastern Townships; whether it be on a local, provincial or national level of Government we will always say it's either not enough or too much.
Every environmental problem on our planet takes years and years before the experts can even agree that it is a problem and in this case, as with every environmental issue, there is no quick fix to a problem that has been growing for generations. Brome Lake was facing closures as early as 1968 due to blue-green algae so it is not a new phenomenon. Neither does the phenomenon of elected officials wanting to perform drawn-out studies and bring in experts who may oversimplify issues in order to satisfy mandates.
While the Brome Lake Council’s wish to hire someone to be full-time environmental inspector for the lake was greeted with favour some thought the idea to be like "hiring someone to stand outside the Knowlton Pub and insisting the drunks drive safely!"
Is someone who has a multi-million dollar water-front estate on Lac Brome, who pays large amounts of municipal taxes, going to allow a local “inspector” dictate structural changes to their property? Will multi-million dollar businesses in Knowlton like L.E.K and the Duck Farm who employ hundreds of people in the area and who pay large tax dollars to the town be keen on suddenly treating their waste more efficiently to help reduce the influx of harmful nutrients in the lake?
The answer should be yes!
But it’s not only about the big business and land owners. We all have a role to play and it’s up to us, individuals (rich and poor) and businesses to make the changes. When the Blue Bins for recycling were introduced recently in Knowlton some people were actually against them saying they "didn’t want to pay extra taxes for recycling!" My goodness …this is the sort of attitude that creates problems in our lakes!
Imagine if someone dared step forward and said: "There are large private properties within the Brome Lake watershed whose runoff flows into Lac Brome and many of these properties have lawns that are as manicured as any golf course and some of these are "gentleman farmers" who have horses and other livestock on their "estates" and perhaps who may not be concerned with assuring that best management practices are being adhered to."
The facts are: the major cause of point source phosphorus into Brome Lake is runoff from private properties. Sure, we can blame the Duck Farm or the golf courses surrounding the lake, but these large corporations have certain criteria they must follow unlike wealthy landowners living close to Brome Lake who can, without penalty or retribution, allow manure to pile up beside a stream that feeds directly into the lake with no threat of penalty.
According to research done by the group who organized the meeting, "Renaissance Lac Brome", about 2,000 kilograms of phosphorus go into Brome Lake annually. The surface area of Brome Lake is around 14.5 square kilometres so every year there is nearly 138 kg of phosphorus flushing into the lake. Where does this come from?
People add excessive amounts of nutrients (primarily phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon) that end up in our lakes in various ways which is why understand a watersheds relationship to Brome Lake is important. Runoff from agricultural fields, waterfront lawns, and golf courses is one source of these nutrients. Untreated, or partially-treated, industrial and domestic sewage is another source. Detergents also contain which act as water softeners to improve cleaning action. These are all powerful stimulants to algal growth when they are washed into lakes. Because of the dense development around the lake most of the natural, filtering vegetation around the lake has been destroyed allowing nutrient rich runoffs to flush freely into the lake.
The sediment at the bottom of the lake, called the “Monster” by the group organizing the meeting in Knowlton, creates more algae blooms when it is stirred up. This thinking helped lead the council to call for limiting boats on the lake since they stirred up the lake. There were some raised eyebrows from the crowd because, despite all the documented literature on the subject of restoration of lakes, eliminating boats was the one concrete measure that had been agreed upon.
Saying the problem stems from sediments is somewhat of an over-simplification of the process but even so studies have shown that even such rudimentary solutions such as aeration and bottom-sediment sealing with proper compounds can, in some cases, help reverse such signs of eutrophication that lead to blue-green algae.
A buffer zone of riparian plants can help filter out the excess phosphorus from lakeside properties before it enters the water. Streams and tributaries leading into the lake should be planted accordingly to filter out unwanted nutrients. Other programs should address the problem of reducing phosphorus runoff from lawns and roads in developed areas. On an acre per acre basis, developed land contributes about 3.5 times as much phosphorus to the Lake as agricultural land.
The key will be to limit what goes into the lake by establish and enforcing tougher guidelines for waste treatment and agricultural practices. Riparian zones, a margin of vegetation which includes trees, shrubs, and grasses extending from the waterline of rivers and streams, must be maintained around the lake.
It must also be realized that human activity is the source of many negative environmental changes on a worldwide scale. Global warming along with ocean and air pollution is directly linked to increasing populations and industrial developments of civilization. Perhaps these environmental catastrophes are a natural progression of a sickening planet. We're all upset with the thought of global warming and the greenhouse effect changing our climate for the worse but at the same time we want to drive as many big cars as we want, fly south on vacations, play golf on lovely greens and eat meat grown on deforested lands without limitations.
Maybe our way of life is the problem? If so; what are we, as a society, willing to sacrifice…