By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors will request a delegation with provincial cabinet ministers at the upcoming Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference to seek clarity on just who, exactly, is responsible for informing the public when a blue-green algae bloom has been discovered on a lake.
As previously reported, a number of suspected blue-green algae blooms were reported in the county this fall, and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks confirmed in November that one reported on Bob Lake in Minden Hills was indeed an algae bloom.
The blooms, typically caused by high levels of phosphorous, can be toxic and potentially fatal, including to pets.
“A member of the public notified the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks of a potential bloom on Bob Lake, the ministry completed an inspection and then submitted tests to the lab,” Minden Hills Trisha McKibbin chief administrative officer told councillors during a late-November meeting.
Those results took about a week to come back, with the ministry confirming on Nov. 16 the existence of the bloom, and that it had dissipated by Nov. 17.
McKibbin noted that according to the ministry, the bloom was small, isolated, and dissipated quickly.
“The ministry was in contact with the member of the public and with the Bob Lake Association,” McKibbin said. “ . . . Contact was also made with the municipality and with the health unit. I also reached out to the health unit to have a conversation about what we as the municipality should be doing and what communications should take place.”
For years, it’s been unclear whether informing the general public of the presence of an algae bloom is the responsibility of the health unit or municipal governments, and McKibbin said the health unit directs members of the public to its website.
“In Haliburton County, there have been at least five blooms so far over the last couple of weeks, and lots of reasons for it – a little bit of warmer weather, the drawdown of the lakes, which causes a whole bunch of things to happen, climate change, there’s a whole bunch of things,” said Councillor Bob Carter, who’s also president of the Lake Kashagawigamog Organization. “This is what the health unit sends people if they ask. Unfortunately, how sick do they have to be before they ask that there is a bloom?”
“These are neurotoxins that are deadly and very, very dangerous,” Carter continued. “So the question becomes, when we have a bloom, we get the ministry of environment involved, it takes them a week or so to do the testing after they arrive . . . What do we do once we get that information? There’s now a blip. If that bloom is on Kashagawigamog, we’ve got about 1,000 or so people that we should notify.”
Carter noted that many lake and river residents take their drinking water directly from those lakes and rivers.
“So it’s not enough that the health unit would send you something if you ask for it,” Carter said. “Who’s going to tell the people, and what is the communication process by which people are going to be notified, and then who is responsible for it? Because, if we’re talking death, there’s probably something here that should be codified and put into a process where we can alert people.”
Haliburton County council had met the day prior, with councillors deciding they would request a delegation with provincial cabinet ministers during the ROMA conference, which will take place virtually in late January.
At that meeting, Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen said she was concerned that someone who got ill or whose pet died from an algae bloom would wind up suing the municipality.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin agreed, saying he wanted it made clear precisely who was ultimately responsible, and therefore liable.
“Who’s primary?” Devolin said. “I just clearly want to know. Who’s going to be primary in this mess?”