Moose Lake: High Water Levels, Fecal Matter Warnings, and Algae Blooms

*CORRECTION: Moose Lake does drain into Thinlake River. It drains every seven years.

Moose Lake has been a concern for years.

Mitch Sylvestre, a Moose Lake resident for most of his life, is worried it won’t be much longer until it becomes a slough. He wants something done to clean up Moose Lake as it’s “becoming a point of contention for locals.”

“It’s not 1955 when there’s a thousand people living there. There’s 5000-6000 people along the lake. The rules have to change so it can be preserved. We can’t allow it to become a slough,” said Sylvestre.

*Moose Lake is a shallow lake that doesn’t drain. Essentially, it’s a watershed that collects water from the intensive livestock in that area and stays stagnant.

At the moment, Moose Lake water levels are rising and threatening to flood some properties built close to the shore.

Last year, the Municipal District of Bonnyville requested the province consider the removal of the weir north of Moose Lake, on the Moose River.

Reeve Greg Sawchuk says the M.D. is waiting to begin the consultation process with the Minister of Environment for the removal of the weir. In the meantime, they’ve begun removing dams as recommended by Alberta Environment’s report.

“In that report they actually said that removal of both the weir and the dams would help alleviate some of the high water,” said Sawchuk. “What the M.D. has done is press the Minister (of Environment) to come forward with that consultation, and we’re going ahead on some of those beaver dams that are holding up water.”

When the water levels aren’t an issue – it’s the water itself.

In 2006, the Town of Bonnyville and M.D. of Bonnyville adopted the Moose Lake Watershed Management Plan with the goal to improve water quality in the Moose Lake Watershed to pre-development conditions.

Still, Moose Lake is known for its yearly blue-green algae blooms, and as of last year, fecal matter warnings. The fecal matter could be coming from three places: birds, agriculture, and the residents along the shore.

“Those [septic] tanks have to be checked,” said Mitch Sylvestre. “It’s coming from somewhere. If all the sudden we’re having fecal matter warnings on a lake that sized, where’s it coming from?”

“Some of the solutions would be to develop a sewer system for these houses along the lake, and have it treated like it is in town.”

The Mayor of Bonnyville disagrees, however. Gene Sobolewski said it’s a “myth” that leaking septic tanks are causing the fecal matter warnings.

“We couldn’t find any traces of that at all because that was a prevailing theory for why we were getting blue-green and fecals,” said Mayor Sobolewski.

In 2004 and 2005, an environmental consulting firm tested Moose Lake for caffeine levels, a sure indicator of human sewage contamination. Caffeine was not detected at appreciable levels for either year.

That means one of three things: at the time there was no raw human sewage entering the tested inflows, detection limits were not sensitive enough to detect diluted caffeine levels, or that the sewage had been possibly treated.

“You have a lot more intensive agriculture going on in the watershed. A lot of spring that’s going on. A lot of fertilizing for your crops, and of course, your cattle as well, the livestock,” said Sobolewski.

“So, it’s no wonder that there’s been a lot of degradation to the lake. It’s no different than you see with a lot of these shallow lakes in Alberta. It’s the same thing.”

But that test is 13 years old. A short term solution from the Watershed Plan recommended Alberta Health and Wellness should partner with the Watershed group and regularly test sewage inputs into the lake.

As of July 14, Lakeland Connect was not able to ascertain followup sewage tests. However, water quality tests were done on the lake last year. It showed increasing trends of total phosphorous and total dissolved solids. That creates those algae blooms.

Bonnyville will get its water from Moose Lake for another couple years. After the tap is turned on from Cold Lake, Mayor Sobolewski thinks the best option for Moose Lake is repurposing the water treatment plant to remove nutrients.

“One of the things we can look at with our water treatment plant…is to see whether or not it’s possible to keep utilizing the intake. Have them construct a discharge line somewhere out near the franchere, and literally cleanse the water.

“You don’t have to get it to potable water standards. But you can start to remove some of your nutrients and remove some of the nasty stuff.”

Sobolewski is not keen on the idea of a sewer system like that of Pigeon Lake, saying it would be very complex, involve multiple levels of government, and a willingness by the people around Moose Lake to get it done.

The M.D. has hosted shoreline cleanups and information sessions over the years, but the damage appears to have been done in a lake that just doesn’t drain.

So, can anything be done about the long-term health of Moose Lake?

“If it’s coming from the residential, it has to be dealt with. If it’s coming from the agricultural, then it has to be dealt with. I think it’s coming from everywhere. I think everyone is responsible. But we have to smarten up,” said Sylvestre.