Lake health at risk in Haliburton County
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | March 30, 2017
The majority of lakefront property owners need to take a serious look at their shorelines.
A minimum of 75 per cent of the shoreline around each lake needs a 30-metre vegetative buffer to maintain the existing water quality, according to a scientific review by the Muskoka Watershed Council.
But a survey of 47 lakes in Haliburton County has found that only eight per cent, or four lakes, were at or above the minimum.
“That is a scary statistic,” said Paul MacInnes, chair of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA).
The CHA is a non-profit organization focused on protecting the 124 lakes it represents.
“The lakes are the economic engine of our county,” MacInnes told county council on Feb. 22.
The main threat lakes face is blue-green algae blooms. In Ontario, phosphorus from septic systems is the leading cause of its growth. In other areas, it has resulted in swimming bans and a steep decline in property values, he said.
“We don’t want that to happen here.”
This is why they launched the Love Your Lake program in the county three years ago. With the help of trained staff and dozens of volunteers, the shorelines of more than 10,000 properties in the county—more than the rest of the country—have been evaluated. That number will grow to 14,000 by the end of the year.
“We’re now the flagship for this program in Canada,” he said.
Individual reports are provided to property owners. They are informed about how they can re-naturalize their property, which ultimately improves the health of the lake.
It’s intended to motivate action, said MacInnes.
The national program is owned by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada. The CHA is one of 11 regional partners in Canada, and receives funding from several sources.
Four evaluators will be hired this summer and each will be equipped with about $3,000 of equipment. They tour the lakes with boats provided by lake associations.
With one more year to go, the goal is to meet the 75 per cent minimum on every lake. But in order to do that, the entire community will need to get behind the project, he said.
One of the obstacles is finding suppliers in the county who understand natural shorelines, said MacInnes. To address this, the CHA launched a training program two years ago with the support of the Haliburton County Development Corporation and the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce.
Climate change makes the CHA’s task even more urgent, he added.
And just last summer, they began a program with realtors to ensure they avoid promoting the de-naturalization of shorelines.
MacInnes didn’t request anything specific, but encouraged council to think about what they can do to help get the message out.
“It’s not people being ignorant out there. It’s people lacking the knowledge of how important natural shorelines are.”
Councillor Murray Fearrey suggested the possibility of including information in the tax bill to all waterfront property owners.
“Maybe something that puts a little fear in them, that shows those negatives of how property values will go down,” said Fearrey.
County Warden Brent Devolin believes having this data makes all the difference.
“We’ve anecdotally known some of this stuff,” he said. “Now we know where we are and we can take concrete steps to go forward.”
To learn more about the CHA, visit cohpoa.org.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.