Citizen science contributes to lake health

There are many ways Haliburton County residents can help monitor the health of their lakes.

A lake stewards water quality training session was hosted by the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations at the Stanhope Firefighters Community Hall on April 25.

About 100 members of various lake associations attended the forum. Split into groups and rotating through a series of five stations, attendees got educated in some citizen science that is helping gauge the health of the community’s lakes.

One indicator of a lake’s vitality is its population of benthos – tiny, bottom-dwelling invertebrates that assist in filtering lake water.

Chris Jones, a researcher with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, explained that doing benthic testing does require more training than most forms of citizen science.

“We offer training courses,” he said, explaining citizens must be certified with the ministry before they can start contributing to research.
Standard courses are three days long.

Sampling includes skimming a lake’s bottom with a net, identifying and counting organisms.

“Identifying them takes some time,” Jones said. “You have to learn to use biological keys and it’s not for everybody. You have to have some spare time. The insects can be a bit of a challenge.”

While it’s understood that more benthos generally mean a healthier lake, the field is still new enough there are not established targets.

“We are still in the process of categorizing normal levels,” Jones said.

Part of why benthic testing is needed is to help determine what those levels are.

Algal blooms – masses of algae that float on a lake’s surface – are a growing problem in the province.

“In Ontario, we’re seeing the number of algal blooms are increasing over time,” Dr. Michelle Palmer, a nutrient and algal monitoring scientist with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, told attendees.

Algal blooms often result from excess nutrients, most typically phosphorous, which gets deposited into watersheds through household cleaning products, fertilizers and human and pet waste. They are harmful not only for causing oxygen depletion in water bodies – eating up oxygen needed by native plants and animals – but can also be toxic.

Two types of algal blooms typical to the area are those comprised of golden-brown and those comprised of blue-green algae.

Golden-brown algal blooms typically occur on low-nutrient lakes and while they don’t produce toxins, they do produce a foul odour and can give water an unpleasant taste.

Blue-green algae is much brighter.

“It looks like someone took paint and threw it on the water,” Palmer said.

Blue-green algae can be dangerous, producing toxins that can affect the liver and nervous system.

If anyone suspects they may have an algal bloom on their lake, they are asked to call the ministry’s spills action centre at 1-800-268-6060.

“For Haliburton County, over the last few years, there’s only been two blooms reported,” Palmer said, adding the ministry tends not to identify where blooms are found, as it can affect property values.

Anna DeSellas of the Dorset Environmental Science Centre explained the Lake Partners Program, which she co-ordinates.

Started in 1996, the program began as a partnership between the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations and the Lake of the Woods District Property Owners’ Association. Since 2002, the MOE has run the program out of the Dorset facility.

“What is your environmental question? What do you need to answer?” DeSellas asked, explaining the program seeks to answer whether phosphorous concentrations are changing over time, as well as identifying the trophic status of lakes.

“Trophic status is just a way of categorizing lakes . . . basically the biomass that’s in your lake,” DeSellas said.

Most of the lakes in Haliburton County are considered oligotrophic – deep, clear lakes with relatively little vegetation.

The program provides participants with kits of sampling equipment, which include Secchi discs. Secchi discs – named for their inventor – are black and white discs used to measure water transparency. The are lowered into the water until no longer visible, known as the Secchi depth.

Sampling for the program requires using a Secchi disc and taking water samples using a weighted bottle. Bottles needs to be weighted down with two pounds of anchor material, whether it’s rocks, marbles, etc.

Ideally, measurements should be taken between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and need to be taken on a regular basis to provide adequate data.

For more information on the Lake Partners Program, email [email protected]

Alison Kirkpatrick, who does invasive species monitoring and outreach for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, gave participants a rundown on the process to follow if they expect an invasive species of plant or animal is in their area.

Creatures such as zebra muscles or Asian carp, or plants such as giant hogweed, have been known to wreak havoc in Ontario. They eat the food or absorb nutrients required by native species.

“They’re very adaptable,” Kirkpatrick said of successful invasive species.

Anyone who suspects they have found an invasive species is asked to call 1-800-563-771 or email [email protected]

“We want to know so we can pass that information along to the correct people,” Kirkpatrick said.

Smartphone application EDDMaps can be used to take and send photos of suspected invasive species. The CHA’s science advisor Debbie Balika went over dissolved oxygen testing.

Dissolved oxygen is another indicator of lake health, the optimal level being seven to eight milligrams of dissolved oxygen per litre of water at the bottom of a lake.

“Anything below that, cells don’t function properly,” Balika said. “You’ve got to do a bit of homework before you go out to do your dissolved oxygen.”

Because the electronic monitoring equipment used has a length of 30 metres, citizen scientists must find an area of their lake that is 30 metres deep, as getting a reading from the bottom is crucial.

Readings are taken at metre intervals, starting at 10 centimetres below the surface.

Maxim Environmental will rent dissolved oxygen meters at $119 for a week’s use.

“Some lake associations don’t have a lot of money,” Balika said, suggesting finding a buddy association to team up and share costs with.

While the meters do store data, “always keep a paper copy as well,” Balika cautioned, adding that data should be recorded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for consistency’s sake “The idea is that we want to share data, on par, with MOE and MNR.”

Chaired by Paul MacInnes of the Maple, Beech and Cameron Lakes Area Property Owners’ Association, the CHA was founded in 2009.

It has grown from a membership of 23 lake association to 100 during that time.

For more information about the CHA, visit


Photo: Anna DeSellas of the Dorset Environmental Science Centre talks about the Lake Partners Program during a lake stewards training session the CHA hosted in Stanhope in late April.

View original article at: Citizen science contributes to lake health



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