Residents near suspected algae bloom on N.S. lake face weekend avoiding water

·3 min read

ENFIELD, N.S. — People who live near a lake north of Halifax with a potential toxic bloom of blue-green algae will spend at least the next few days avoiding contact with its water as more testing continues.

Residents of the area around Grand Lake, near Enfield, N.S., were informed of the danger of the water earlier this week after one person was hospitalized and two dogs died on Wednesday.

Julie Towers, the provincial Environment Department's deputy minister, said in a briefing Friday that the water is also being tested for pesticides, organic materials and petroleum hydrocarbons, with results expected early next week.

However, she says at this point the toxin produced by blue-green algae is the likeliest cause.

"A picture was taken the first evening ... and it has that quite vibrant colour to it, suggesting it is blue-green algae," said Towers, who added that it came after an unusually warm series of days.

She suggested the frequency of the blooms may be linked to climate change. "Algae like any plant responds to warmth. We're getting warmer. We're seeing climate change effects," Towers said. "I suspect we're going to have more blooms in more sites."

The department says homeowners with wells that have a depth of 30 metres or less and are located within 60 metres of Grand Lake should not use their well water for drinking, bathing or cooking until further notice.

"No contact with the water ... this weekend, for sure," Towers said.

Jesse Hulsman, the director of infrastructure and operations with the Municipality of East Hants, said during the news conference that in the past decade his region hasn't seen a similar shutdown due to such an algae bloom.

The municipality has set up water stations at the East Hants Aquatic Centre to assist people whose water supply is no longer accessible. It is also trying to set up showers, with appropriate COVID-19 safeguards.

While Hulsman said the number of people affected is not precisely known, he noted there are "hundreds of homes in near proximity to the lake."

Municipal water utility Halifax Water has said that while it operates three small systems within the same watershed as Grand Lake, none draw water from Grand Lake, and residents' tap water remains safe to drink. The Municipality of East Hants has also said their supplies are safe.

Reports of the toxic blooms in Atlantic Canada have been increasing in recent years, with veterinarians issuing public warnings when dogs die suddenly. It is also increasingly common for chief medical officers of health to issue advisories in early summer to warn people to check bodies of water and shorelines for the algae as warm weather arrives.

The journal Nature recent published a study of nearly 400 lakes in the United States and Europe where oxygen levels have been dropping over the past four decades. The authors argued the declining oxygen levels could lead to increased algal blooms, and they link the trend to warming temperatures and decreased water clarity due to human activities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press