Phosphorus testing, septic fields, and alum treatment: What could happen at Moose Lake

Phosphorus, chlorophyll and high water levels – Moose Lake conversations have heated up again.

The Moose Lake Watershed Society hosted their annual meeting at the Centennial Centre on Wednesday with presentations from Brad Peters from the Alberta Lake Management Society and Dr. John Holz from HAB Aquatic Solutions.

The issue reiterated at the meeting was finding out the breakdown of what’s in the water right now, and where the high phosphorus levels are coming from.

Basically, is the lake internally or externally loaded?

“Really, that’s been the ultimate goal,” said Kellie Nichiporik, chair of the Moose Lake Watershed Society.

“We’ve been doing a lot of tributary sampling as well as the Lakewatch. We have a really good start on the data that we need to be able to do this. We still need more studies obviously and we really need to work towards doing that internal study done, so we need to be doing the coring samples and understanding, right now, how much phosphorus is at the bottom of the lake that is contributing to the algae blooms?

In October, the M.D. of Bonnyville donated $50,000 to the Moose Lake Watershed Society for equipment. Since then, they have been working out the details to ensure the testing is done correctly.

“It was amazing to hear that the money had been set aside, but it’s kind of left us scrambling to get everything in place. There is a lot of details with it, so it will be a rather large undertaking, so we want to make sure we’re doing it properly. As well as making sure that we can expand to other lakes,” said Nichiporik.

Nichiporik said the society has decided on the equipment they’d need. But are still analyzing who’s going to run the equipment, who’s going to do the sampling and how often, and what their sampling protocols are.

“It’s going to be a very intensive sampling protocol. We’d be looking at weekly samplings with probably 20-30 different sites that we’ve identified so far. We’re just making sure we have the manpower, we have qualified people who run the equipment, the training we’d need to do it, as well as making sure that we have our scientific protocols in place, just make sure the data is valid and can be useful.

“A lot of it is making sure we have the right objectives and that we can obtain those.”

Nichiporik adds that these details could be finalized by the end of March so they can start sampling once run-off from the watershed happens in the spring.

Dr. John Holz: alum treatment, septic tanks, and economic studies

In Dr. John Holz’s presentation, he suggested a potential, cost-effective solution for lowering phosphorus levels using alum, if the further tests bear out.

Alum binds to phosphorus, but would only be effective if a good percentage of the phosphorus was coming from the bottom of the lake.

“We do have a really high PH [in Moose Lake] so it might not be suitable because once you hit a higher end PH, and Moose Lake can get into the 9’s, alum can actually present itself in a toxic form making it unsuitable for our fish, our wildlife and even the people recreating in it,” said Nichiporik after Holz’s presentation.

“We need a lot better understanding of the water chemistry if that was something we can even consider in the future.”

Septic fields remain a concern from residents and Holz suggested more studies on that aspect of nutrient loading as well, which Nichiporik agrees with.

“That was part of the goal with the qPCR [testing equipment] was to see if humans are contributing through their septic system into the lake, and so I think that’s something to also consider moving into the future as to what can be done about that.”

Another avenue to explore is conducting a study about the economic impact Moose Lake has on the area. Holz said that is more commonly done in the United States and could help get more dollars from the government.

“The value of it is really great to leverage action by provincial or federal government. The fishing industry alone generates millions and millions to the Alberta economy so just being able to quantify that for our lake. There’s always people fishing off of Franchere Bridge and there is a huge recreation potential and that does have economic impacts, being able to keep that lake at a level that we can recreate on it so people can come and enjoy it.

“It’s not enjoyable when it’s green and very few areas of the lake that you can use during the day, obviously it also impacts all the values of homes around the lake, so it does have a huge impact and it’s something we’d be looking at exploring further.”

At the meeting, Kellie Nichiporik was re-instated as chair of the Moose Lake Watershed Society, and Colin Hanusz from LICA was named vice-chair.