Sunfish Lake Water Quality

With such fabulous weather already this year there have been many swimmers in the lake already and thankfully our water quality seems good.  We have had our research team from the University of Waterloo out twice already this year doing testing and taking samples from the lake and tributaries.  Our monitoring program for cyanobacteria with Treefrog Environmental will begin on June 20th and continue throughout the summer with biweekly water testing for cyanobacteria and toxins.  Many thanks to Nancy, Rob and Bob for the dozens of volunteer hours they continue to provide to helping to ensure we have the best possible water quality.

While currently the water quality is good, almost all tests are showing that our nutrient levels (particularly for phosphorus and nitrogen) continue to be far too high and above the recommended thresholds to prevent algae and cyanobacteria outbreaks.  Thus, if conditions are right there is already too much “fuel” in our water/sediments potentially leading to significant and toxic algae outbreaks.  We need to continue to do everything possible to reduce and eliminate these surplus nutrients including:

– no fertilizers or pesticides

– no soaps, shampoos or detergents

– removal of all dog and pet waste from lawns

– septic pumping and upgrading of septic tanks with phosphorus removal systems

There is a good article about the increasing problems of algal blooms in this month’s Cottage Life Magazine:

You can also learn more at our website – where research results, background articles, and all the information we are learning is being centralized.

Similar to last year there will be a levy of $450 in addition to our regular fee to help cover the costs of all the water quality monitoring and research to ensure the safety of people using the lake.  While the Executive realizes this is a significant outlay for each family, we have been able to leverage our funds with tens of thousands of dollars of additional funding, research, and laboratory testing with numerous partners including the University of Waterloo, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Guelph, the University of Ottawa. the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, the Ministry of Natural Resources Dorset Freshwater Lakes Center, the Grand River Conservation Authority, the Region of Waterloo Public Health Unit and others.

In fact, we were able to stretch the few thousand dollars we raised from our levy last year to obtain more than $100,000 worth of services and laboratory testing including daily visits and sampling from University of Western Ontario graduate students.  This research has provided us with an increasingly clear understanding of our ecosystem and the challenges it is facing.

This year’s efforts will continue to confirm these findings, monitoring water quality on a regular basis for safety, and start to trial some remediation measures.  In addition to our two research and monitoring teams we will have three other groups of researchers from area universities working on climate change, using artificial intelligence to identity harmful algae blooms, and drone hydrogeomatics that will be undertaking research at Sunfish Lake providing us with research results and extremely important data as we try to figure out our extremely complex and unique ecosystem.


Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks

It is that time of year again when geese and ducks are looking for a place to nest.  Please be sure to differentiate between migrating species such as grebs, merganzers, buffleheads, and loons who are just stopping to rest for a few hours from the common Canada geese and mallard ducks that we need to discourage from nesting and establishing colonies.  Given that birds will return each year to their birthplace we could very quickly become overrun like Columbia Lake, Silver Lake, or even the University of Waterloo Campus.

With increasing geese numbers everywhere we are going to have to work extra hard to convince Canada geese and mallard ducks that this is not a nice place to raise a family to ensure the best possible water quality for the future.  Mallard ducks carry a parasite that causes swimmer’s ear and frequent ear infections in humans while Canada geese carry high levels of coliforms that can make swimmers or people who consume the water quite sick and cause permanent liver damage.

If you require firecrackers or want to use one of the Lake Association’s remote control boats to deter geese from your part of the lake please let me know.  Many thanks to Jim Hodgson for the tremendous supply of fire crackers for geese deterrence.

We all have to take responsibility for our own shoreline and lake area.  Leaving your shoreline as natural as possible with native grasses and plants will help to improve water run-off quality, discourage geese, as well as provide important frog and fish egg habitat.

Cross Boundary Fire Servicing Agreement

I have had extensive meetings recently with the Fire Chiefs from both Wilmot Township and the City of Waterloo.  They have spent hundreds of hours addressing dozens of issues to ensure the agreement works successfully.  They are continuing to cross-train, plan, and familiarize themselves with our area.  As the weather gets nicer in the Spring and Summer they hope to go door-to-door to every house and cottage in the area for fire safety inspections, to offer advice, and to answer any questions about fire safety or what to expect in an emergency.  It has taken years of efforts to get this additional fire coverage and we hope to keep working over the year ahead on additional training, fire pump setups, dry hydrants, and obtaining additional information on automatic direct fire alarms and home sprinkler systems.

Dog Waste

Dog waste that leaches into the ground and water sources is more of an issue than previously realized.  Below is an easy-to-read magazine article talking about the scope and seriousness of the issue.  While there is not much we can do about dog urine (short of banning dogs and outdoor cats which several lake areas have started to do), we urge all pet owners to keep their pets on a leash or confined to a specific area and to clean up from them right away – before solid waste starts to leach and break down.

Read the article here

Septic Testing Results

The results from our septic soil testing have been received and are provided in the table and Excel file here:

We should not jump to conclusions or assumptions based on only one set of soil tests.  Please don’t point fingers at neighbours or assume that you system is fine yet.  We should have multiple tests over several time intervals to be reliable and able to come to more accurate conclusions.

However, these results do point to issues and the need for additional testing.  While I wouldn’t put too much significance on any one data point there are several trends that are apparent:

– year-round cottages tend to have higher phosphorous readings in their lawn soils which is logical because they are likely getting more use and having to process more nutrients,

– places with dogs tend to have higher nutrient levels in their lawns,

– newer active septic tanks have just as high or even higher phosphorous levels than other septic systems which simply confirms the fact that septic systems do almost nothing to break down or remove phosphorus – only specific phosphorous filters that have just come on the market in the past year can do this,

– some of the highest levels are at cottages that have been used the longest which is logical since phosphorus and other nutrients build up in the soil over time until the soil can absorb no more then any excess is washed away into the surrounding water ways,

– some of the data raises more questions than it answers which means we simply need more data and testing – unfortunately the Olsen P tests used for soil phosphorous testing are very time consuming and expensive.

Once again, we need to do everything that we can to limit phosphorous and nutrients (limit soaps, shampoos, fertilizers), remove existing nutrients from the ecosystem (septic tank pumping, removal of compost and other nutrient rich debris), and filter any future sources of nutrients to remove/breakdown phosphorous (septic filters, bioswales, wetlands).

EcoAction Funding Proposal

Realizing that we need to be doing more than just monitoring and additional research, the Sunfish Lake Association has applied for a $47,400 grant from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to help with the testing and implementation of possible remediation solutions to deal with the increasing levels of nutrients (mainly phosphorus) in our lake that is causing the cyanobacteria and algae outbreaks.  We have proposed a three year program including:

– Year One – monitoring, research, implementation of bales of natural barley straw in rafts and nets around the lake (a traditional control for cyanobacteria), further septic testing and initial deployment of 2 or 3 septic phosphorous filters,

– Year Two – monitoring, research, additional barley rafts/nets, construction of bioswales to improve tributary stream water quality, construction of a man-made wetland to improve stream water quality, further installation of septic phosphorous filters,

– Year Three – monitoring, research, additional barely rafts/nets, additional man-made wetlands or bioswales to improve stream water quality, further installation of septic phosphorus filters.

The total value of the proposal is almost $250,000 counting all of our volunteer time, contributions, the almost $50,000 grant we are seeking, and the cost of privately funded improvements such as the septic upgrades.  Our proposal was almost 50 pages in length and took considerable time to prepare.  Thanks to Bob Hudgins and Sue Hart for all their help with this application.  We will learn in June if we have been successful.  If we are not successful with this community grant then we are going to have to find other ways to fund and accomplish this required work.

Provincial Greenbelt Expansion

After years of efforts the province has finally announced a proposal to begin the process to expand the Provincial Greenbelt to the Waterloo Moraine, the Paris-Galt Moraine, and other essential hydrological resources facing development pressures around the Greater Toronto Area including Waterloo Region, Wellington County, Dufferin County, Simcoe County, Dufferin County, etc. This could provide an important second-layer of environmental protection to our Regional environmental protections such as the Laurel Creek Headwaters Environmentally Sensitive Landscape (ESL), Protected Countryside, and Countryside Line concept.

There is a March 7th deadline for public comment and it is so important that the government hears from the citizens of Ontario that they want more action on the environment, climate change, local food, urban sprawl, farmland protection, greenspace preservation, source water protection and all the other advantages that this permanent Greenbelt protection brings.

Please be sure to send your comments and support for Greenbelt expansion to help better protect Sunfish Lake to the province as soon as possible at:

You can also automatically send an e-mail to the Premier and Cabinet Ministers at:

Cross Boundary Fire Servicing Agreement

For years we have been working to get fire department coverage for our Sunfish Lake area from the new City of Waterloo full-time fire hall on Columbia Street in addition to the Wilmot Township volunteer fire halls in Baden and New Hamburg. It has been a brutally rough process and taken a dismal amount of time however, thanks to the City of Waterloo and significant efforts from Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky along with Waterloo Fire Chief Richard Hepditch we now have the cross boundary agreement in place and if your primary residence or any significant structure on your property is on fire the 911 operators are to dispatch both the City of Waterloo Fire Department along with the Wilmot Fire Services. You can read the attached newspaper article below for more information.

If you are part of the northern portion of Sunfish Lake who also pay $150/year in extra property taxes to Wellesley Township for cross boundary response services you will apparently also have Wellesley fire trucks dispatched from St. Clements and Wellesley too. Wellesley Township Fire Departments will respond to any sort of emergency whereas the City of Waterloo Fire Department will only respond to structural fires – not car accidents, nor heart attacks, strokes, brush fires, nor any other sort of emergency most likely to happen so it is still worth us continuing to pay the $150/year premium.

While we have yet to even meet with the new Wilmot Fire Chief despite significant ongoing efforts, Waterloo Chief Hepdtich and his crews have been spending considerable time on ensuring they know our area and can respond as quickly as possible. They have prepared run cards, detailed maps, GPS co-ordinates, photo files, and a very detailed database of our area. The Chief hopes to have every single Waterloo fireman out to our area to see it firsthand in daylight hours and you may have already encountered Waterloo fire crews and trucks in the area.

We have also been testing with real fire trucks to ensure that they can get down our laneways and to our properties (see photos below). While the north laneway into Sunfish Lake currently has the required clearances with the exception of the final 100m to the Guy’s and Lackner’s, the two Southern Laneways have some issues and the Fire Department is asking that we clear them to a minimum clearance of 3.6 m (12 feet) wide and 5.5 m (18 feet) tall to avoid damaging their fire trucks and equipment. Perhaps the residents of each laneway can work amongst themselves to figure out how to ensure their laneways meet these requirements. Any grading improvements, turn around areas, pot hole filling, etc. would also be appreciated by the fire crews.

Overall, it is fantastic to finally be receiving this improved fire coverage. It may even result in a discount on your property insurance. While not perfect – too many of our neighbours still aren’t covered, it doesn’t apply to most of the types of emergencies that we are most likely to have, etc. – it is still a considerable improvement.

We will continue to work with the fire departments on the implementation and rollout. I have meetings in the coming weeks scheduled with Chief Hepditch again and there are things such as dry hydrants that they are going to provide us with their specifications for so that we can construct some in the optimal locations around Sunfish Lake (where their trucks can access them) to help provide easy access to water sources in emergencies.

Read this related news from the New Hamburg Press