A personal view of Knowlton, Quebec, the Eastern Townships most beautiful village.

Teknika - Brome Lake Action Plan Released
Read the full story here.

The Plan has arrived!There has been such a build-up of anticipation over the last several months ever since la Ville De Lac Brome announced early this year that they had mandated Teknika-HBA, an engineering firm, to undertake the job of creating a Lake Action Plan to deal with the problems of Brome Lake and the cyanobacteria that has been closing the lake on an almost regular basis so now that it is finally here it feels almost too good to be true!

On Thursday night, during a blustery snowstorm, the Brome Lake Community Meeting Hall was filled almost to capacity as Mayor Wisdom and Pierre Bertrand revealed the action plan to the public in a meeting that lasted over two hours. Mr. Bertrand gave a polished presentation that summed up the action plan and did a good job of keeping his explanations fairly simple; he surmised excellently the major theme and direction the action plan would take without getting too bogged down in to the complicated science of it all...it was the first public presentation of the plan after all and not an in-depth analysis.

He emphasised the three-tiered approach that must be used to reduce the phosphorus concentration to under 20 micrograms per liter which would be a fifty percent reduction from current levels: sensitize the population to the problem and solution, initiate reglementation to ensure adherence to desired practices and intervene when necessary by changes policy and enacting laws to ensure that private and commercial citizens reduce their harm on our watershed.

We have all heard about the problem inherent in an overabundance of phosphorous in lakes (thanks to a lot of media attention being focused on the issues Quebec's lakes have been having in recent years) so it was to be expected that a good part of the Teknika presentation revolved around discussing and explaining the "four-letter" P word. While some folks in the crowd seemed to have their eyes glaze over during the meeting it was certainly well presented so that any newbie coming on board would be able to understand the basics and Bertrand kept things moving to try and cover as much territory as he could.

The plan was interesting in that it basically throws down the gauntlet and holds up a mirror to our faces and says "we are all a big the problem". Perhaps it wasn't as blunt as that but Pierre Bertrand highlighted some of the problematic areas in human urbanization that have led to problems in our lake and watershed. There was no blaming or finger-pointing, which many residents and the media have been doing for months and we're likely hoping to hear, instead it was synopsis of why the problem has developed and what needs to change.

While some cynics will say the report is really nothing new it must be given time to be fully digested and understood so that concrete steps can be defined for the future. The lake plan may be the catalyst we need to start to make the changes required to actually make a difference. Teknika's report is calling for a real paradigm shift in how humans develop and maintain populations in a natural environment and that is an exciting prospect as it challenges everyone from citizens to leaders to start making new guidelines and introducing new methods of living and functioning in the world so that our increasing population won't lead to a complete destruction of the environment.

Is that a tall order? Certainly is, but we're not only talking about trying to un-do decades of poorly-controlled urban growth and inefficient agricultural techniques we're talking about everyone of us taking stock of how we live and our impact on the planet. This lake action plan helps under-score the key role each of us must play in order to collectively repair the lake and the watershed and it is a daunting task! It's easy to blame the politicians or the golf courses or the farms in the area but the blame really comes down on all of our shoulders.

Details of the icons used on some of the large maps from the presentationThe action plan discusses using ponds, filtering marshes and storm water basins to help reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the lake. As well, using the natural landscape to divert watershed tributaries to allow natural decantation of phosphorous and the use of sediment collection basins was touched upon. An impressive set of maps was exhibited showing the recommended areas for such storm water basins and the best local areas to be candidates for re-stabilization of shorelines and riverbanks. There was no talk of boats or, as Renaissance Lac Brome had suggested, the installation of new sewer lines for 300 lakeside residents; instead the evening discussed the incredible amount of work that needed to be done most of which revolved around changing our fundamental attitudes and practices.

Some people have grumbled that this plan of action was a waste of money stating that information was available already and even suggesting solutions could be integrated fairly quickly to remedy the problem. This is not realistic. With all due respect to the hard work of Renaisance Lac Brome or other parties who have financial or other vested interests in the lake it is not by going to court, or writing letters to the editor or having press conferences to release lake saving data that changes will happen. Teknika has a solid reputation and track-record as is well respected within Quebec provincial politics due to the numerous large projects throughout the province they have been involved with. Having an Action Plan from a respected firm like Teknika will allow the Town of Brome Lake to have the proper ammunition to take shots and some of the existing laws and policies that need to be changed in order to save our lake. When an angry mob of students bang tam-tams and block traffic in front of Jean Charests office to protest rising University fees do you think it actually helps their cause? A good cause needs a good lobbyist and if Teknika can help in the end, and even if this report cost $300,000 dollars, then surely the means will justify the ends!

Now that we have a well-written document from a reputable engineering firm maybe it's time to work together instead of being self-righteous or arrogant. This is the kind of document that could really make a difference. This is a solid plan not just another press release or sensationalistic presentation of a magic bullet product that will save the lake.

Sure...lakeside residents need to respect the shorelines instead of feeling it is their right to have a fertilized lawn right to the edge of Brome Lake; many properties along the lake have perfectly manicured lawns and the unhealthy fetish with such lawnscapes has got to stop. Why blame the golf course when they are just giving the people what they want...a perfect treeless expanse to whack a ball around...maybe the people who play golf should be targeted more than the golf courses?

The land development around Brome Lake is nothing exceptional, such properties exist around lakes all over Canada, and aren't most waterfront properties owned by wealthy people? So why don't we blame the wealthy people who have homes so close to the lake for causing the problems? After all...look at the size of some of these homes! Much of the natural waterfront shoreline has been destroyed, septic fields are within a hundred meters of the lake, and lawns, ponds and decorative walls are all around Brome Lake. Do these wealthy people also play golf? Do they own two three or four vehicles? Maybe it's the rich people who are to blame? Maybe we should get our tam-tams and start blocking traffic and burning BMW's?

See...it is way too easy to point the blame when almost all of us are just following the path that was drawn out us from older generations. But sixty years ago almost no-one was giving a tinkers damn about lake quality or air quality like they do today. Now, as we are learning that our forefathers were basically doing things wrong,it will be very hard to convince us to change our ways. People want to have big houses and nice big properties with a sunset over the lake and a boat and more and more just like their mama and papa taught them. But now...what are we teaching our kids? The lessons we give to our children are likely the most important way we can help to better protect our environment!

Farming has evolved over the centuries and the key was always trying to increase productivity and decrease costs the issues of the concern of the negative effects of agricultural practices on the environment are fairly new. Even though the Teknika report showed that raising corn crops contributed the most phosphorous than any other activity in our watershed, blaming the corn farmer doesn't help because farmers are acting under accepted Government standards and practices. Sure these practices need to change but it is not by raising torches and gathering a mob to march on city hall that changes will happen. What we need is cool heads and an intelligent long-term approach. The Brome Lake Action Plan may be just the sort of document needed to help shape policy.

Map of Knowlton, Quebec showing areas of interest for lake rehabilitation.Bertrand said that 300 kg of phosphorous falls into Brome Lake just from the rainfall that hits the water! Much like the acid rain of the seventies taught us that restrictions on emissions needed to be imposed or else catastrophic environmental consequences would result; the fact that so much pollution enters our lake from the very heavens is a sign that this problem is on a global scale. The proliferation of toxic blue green algae and other water problems are symptoms of a sick planet that is reacting to human mismanagement. Whew!

Pierre Bertrand said that when Teknika-HBA presented the preliminary action plan to the government for analysis last month he was told it went far above and beyond any existing Quebec government document on lake issues that had ever been written and was congratulated for such a comprehensive package. This means that the Brome Lake Action Plan may actually be a precedent setting document. Lac Brome has taken the time to get this cutting edge study completed and now is poised to be the example for problem lakes not only in Quebec but all over Canada.

Maybe this Action Plan will put Knowlton and Brome Lake on the map as a progressive "green" municipality. This could be the chance for Knowlton to actually become an example. Imagine the good press we would have if we all worked together and changed our behaviour and attitudes enough to reverse the damage we've done to our Lake? That would put Knowlton on the map! Let's face it "Green" is the new "black" so if we can create promote our natural environment and our respect for it we will have a serious edge over crass commercial areas in the Townships.

Is that a ridiculous pipe dream? Maybe...but this could be an incredible chance to move beyond the traditional way of presenting Knowlton with the cute festivals, antique curiosities shoppes and the Victorian history into promoting a region where we have a progresive leadership where environmental responsibility has been given top priority. There is a huge potential for marketing Brome Lake if residents in the watershed can come together to make real changes and a opportunity for Knowlton to be at the helm. After-all a "watershed" is also defined as a landmark: an event marking a unique or important historical change of course or one on which important developments depend. Why not make Knowlton the landmark, or watershed, for Quebec and become an example for other communities! Sure that's a big challenge but if we're not up to a challenge then changes won't happen...and it goes beyond the residents who live on the waterfront...it goes deep into what we all consume and what we think and what we buy and what we throw away and the resources we use to keep our way of life.

Brome Lake sparkles under a blue summer sky. Another reason why Knowlton has a magical charm worth discovering!
As Bertrand said, the first step is to make people understand and become sensitized to how their behaviour and consumption patterns contribute to the problem. Mandatory regulations rules and fines should be a imposed later and only once we can educate leaders and make changes in policy. This is not going to be a quick fix and there is much work to be done. The Town said on Thursday they would be starting by issuing booklets and informational guidelines to residents to help with the education part of the plan.

This is going to be a long process and we all need to work together so we should put our positive energies together and just leave the negative, muddy boots at the door for a change! Town Council will look at ways to start implementing the action plan at the next council meeting on December 17th. Call city hall (450) 243-6111 for more details.

For anyone interested in learning more visit the Ville De Lac Brome official website and see the Teknika Lake Action Plan for yourself. Then, take some time and look at your lifestyle and ask yourself if there is anything you can do to help become a part of the solution. Hopefully someone will spend a couple hundred extra dollars so the report can be translated into English as well.

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