Québec plan to combat blue-green algae

Written by  //  September 26, 2007  //  Agriculture & Food, Canada, Environment & Energy, Water  //  No comments

26 September 2007
At the end of a day-long forum yesterday on what to do about Quebec’s blooming blue-green algae problem, Premier Jean Charest and Environment Minister Line Beauchamp announced Quebec will move to ban phosphates in dishwashing detergents as early as this fall.
Ideally, the province says, Ottawa will get on board and prohibit phosphates across Canada but – with or without its consent – Quebec will act on detergents as part of a 10-year, $200-million beefed-up program to curb the algae, known scientifically as cyanobacteria. Blue-green algae have infested 156 lakes in Quebec so far this year.
… Environmentalists argue that phosphates in dishwashing detergents are one of the sources for blue-green algae growth, because they can add 5 to 20 per cent more phosphorus to a lake.
Scientists say excess phosphorus – as well as nitrogen and carbon – have fuelled the algae’s growth over the last decade.
… Barring phosphates was the step Quebec wasn’t prepared to take last June when it announced its first plan to curb the algae. That first $12-million plan was panned as toothless and tardy.
This time, the Liberal government took no chances, gathering a host of agricultural, municipal and water experts prepared to put a positive spin on the exercise. Environmental lobbyists were not in the room with the heavy hitters but staked out the press room to watch and at times scoff at the proceedings.
… the province’s powerful agricultural lobby – often criticized for farming right up to the water without respecting the three-metre buffer zone to stop chemicals from spilling into streams – sought and got the public-relations boost it wanted … from the premier himself, who said he had personally never met a farmer not concerned about the quality of the environment and water.
… Liquid fertilizer from agricultural lands often has been linked to the algae’s overgrowth.
Farmers yesterday walked off with the largest chunk of the program’s cash – $145 million over 10 years – to help ease them through the necessary transition.
Union des producteurs agricoles president Laurent Pellerin said he’s happy people realized most of the contamination that turned up in lakes this summer was not related to farming alone.
The government’s approach is multi-pronged:
– Municipalities are being given beefed-up powers to inspect septic systems and keep the fines they collect to fight other offenders in the courts. Fines will be hiked.
– Two million trees will be planted over the next two years along lake and river banks to stop erosion caused by deforestation, another culprit.
– Over three years, the number of lakes under Quebec’s volunteer monitoring program will nearly triple, from 250 to 700.
– The government will hire 15 more inspectors to monitor lakes that are in trouble.
– Tighter rules are in the works for pleasure boats equipped with on-board toilets and homes not connected to sewage lines.
– More accurate, up-to-date information on the state of infected lakes will be provided to prevent scares which last summer sparked massive losses in the tourism industry.
Christian Simard of the conservation group Nature Québec, on hand yesterday, mocked the “no crisis” mood of the forum. He welcomed the promised phosphate ban, but said the actual regulation has to be iron-clad to have any effect.
Reported in Montreal Gazette

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