Water Quality Concerns

It has been a busy summer for our water monitoring and water research teams.  Once again kudo’s to Nancy, Rob, Bob, Jill, Patricia, and everyone else helping with our volunteer efforts.  A great many hours have been spent out gathering water samples from our tributaries, lake surface locations, lake depths, and outlet streams then analyzing all the samples in the labs.

Our water samples have tested satisfactory for most of the year so far, however our nutrient levels remain far too high (too much phosphorus).  We have seen the good indicators dropping and the concerning indicators rising consistently as anticipated/predicted over the summer.  Our testing yesterday has found cyanobacteria levels high enough (with multiple cyanobacteria/algae clusters found) that we felt the need to issue this e-mail warning to people that while we are not yet in a full cyanobacteria outbreak caution now needs to be exercised around the lake.

In particular, given the number of dog deaths in other water bodies recently from cyanobacteria we are recommending that area residents keep their dogs out of the lake as the dogs can ingest potential toxins by drinking the water or licking their fur afterwards.  We are also cautioning people not to drink the water or use it for cooking as their are no filters or boiling methods that can remove the neurotoxins from the water.

At this point, our tests are showing the lake is still at safe levels for swimming in open, clear, water however this could change quickly if large paint-like algae slicks or algae blooms that we saw in 2015 appear.

We have seen a number of dead fish in the past week which is unusual for Sunfish Lake though we have not been able to determine the cause of their death.

Please let us know immediately if you see any paint-like algae slicks, dead fish, or anything concerning/unusual around the lake.  We will continue to monitor the lake and let you know any changes or updates.

Canada Post – New Mailman for Sunfish Lake

Welcome Mr. Jesse Kraft!  After more than a decade of mediocre service, our previous mailman has been fired and one of the favourite mail carriers in all of Waterloo Region has been assigned to our rural route.  You should notice an immediate improvement with fewer errors and more timely mail delivery.

For those at the north end of Sunfish Lake, there is also a new community super mailbox at the corner of the Wilmot Line and Cedar Grove Road.  It has an outgoing mail section and the capacity for larger parcels.  Jesse is asking that each family please tape a label with their family name and the names of everyone who may receive mail to their address inside their mailbox as he gets to know everyone on the route.

Fishing Season Opens June 23rd

A reminder that fishing season opens this year on Saturday, June 23rd.  We ask that everyone follow the provincial laws and hold off on any fishing until then as we need to ensure that the Bass are done spawning and nesting prior to any fishing.  Please also remember that all fishing once fishing season opens is catch-and-release only using barbless hooks and no live bait for the health of our fish and ecosystem.

Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks

While it appears we have been mostly successful in once again deterring the Canada Geese from nesting on Sunfish Lake this Spring (thanks Dave Hudspeth for the $2,000+ of geese lights/buoys he provided at no cost), we still have several very persistent Mallard Ducks that we need to chase away or chronic ear infections in swimmers will be quite likely this summer as the Mallards carry a parasite that causes “swimmers ear” infections – particularly in children.  Please be sure to check your property for any potential nests and chase away the five persistent Mallard Ducks we seem to have.

Environment Canada Community Action Fund Application

Our water team submitted an application to Environment Canada this Spring for funding to help deal with our cyanobacteria situation, including grants to undertake several initiatives to try to remove excess nutrients from our tributaries, improve water quality, reduce the likelihood of cyanobacteria outbreaks, and help cover the costs of the required monitoring/research.  Thanks to Bob Hudgins and others who helped pull together this 50+ page application with a budget/work in kind of almost a quarter of a million dollars.  We will know in the coming weeks if we have been successful in securing this funding and national government assistance.

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: https://cottagelife.com/general/how-to-prevent-algal-blooms-at-your-lake/

You can also learn more at our website – www.sunfishlake.ca 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).