Algae bloom season in Alberta is here. What can we do about it?

·2 min read
A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by researchers. (Submitted by University of Alberta - image credit)
A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by researchers. (Submitted by University of Alberta - image credit)

As glorious as Alberta summers can be, they come with their own set of problems, like blue-green algae.

Unfortunately for eager campers and swimmers, the blooms — which happen every year — can effectively shut down lakes.

So, what exactly is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae or cyanobacteria forms in slow-moving, shallow waters and is usually the result of an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for plant growth, but big blooms of the bacteria are largely caused by human activity like agriculture or residential development.

The algae is known to produce toxins that can negatively affect lake wildlife, pets and humans.

"There is a case to be made that if we did a better job of managing lakes, not only will we get better water security in terms of sources of drinking water, we would also get better economic benefits in terms of recreational activity," said Raymond Menard, with Algae Control Canada.

Blooms commonly occur during hot summer months and early fall.

LISTEN | Trying to swim in an Alberta lake in the summertime: 

Why are Alberta lakes more prone to Algae blooms?

Alberta's lakes tend to be shallow and rich in nutrients, making them a ripe breeding ground for blue-green algae.

So, the annual algae blooms is not unusual. And in fact, algae to an extent is always expected.

As far as solutions go, some methods to combat blue-green algae are waste management, land-use activity, or chemical treatment. Algaecide can be used to reduce or kill algae for a season.

The lake at Edmonton's Hawrelak Park has to be treated for blue-green algae every year. The city uses copper-based products for the clean-up because it kills algae instantly.

The maintenance of Moose Lake falls under the jurisdiction of the closest town, Bonnyville. Lake jurisdiction is random, with caretaking falling between municipalities, the province, and the federal government.

Moose Lake, around 250 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, is proposing a treatment for its algal issues using aluminum sulfate, a nontoxic liquid. The province also uses it to treat water.

The chemical is known to inactivate phosphorus in lakes for 25 years or longer.

If the proposed treatment gets approval, it could cost the community upwards of $15 million.

Although expensive, the treatment could be a much-needed solution for the Moose Lake community.

Menard, who is working on the Moose Lake project, said the best way to manage excess algal growth is to deal with the underlying problem.

"And, every lake is different," he said. "So it requires studying the lakes to know which solution to implement or which combination of solutions to implement."

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