Jocylyne Rankin: Treating all mink effluent off-site would spare lakes

[Canada] Your July 31 article on the demise of Yarmouth County’s much-loved Camp Wapomeo shed light on the regrettable impact of blue-green algae on a quintessentially Canadian summer tradition: camp.

I was a counsellor for two summers at a sleep-over camp in Quebec and I know first-hand how important the lake was to our daily camp activities — from morning swim before breakfast, to canoeing lessons, tripping adventures and campfire sing-alongs on the shore.

After Camp Wapomeo closed its doors, I spoke with the former director who said that the presence of blue-green algae was the tipping point in ceasing the kids’ camp. Blue-green algae had an impact on canoeing and swimming as well as the domestic water supply. In 2009, the last year the camp operated, there were several hundred kids attending camp and up to 40 staff people hired for the summer.

I was dismayed to read the statement from a provincial Environment Department spokeswoman who indicated that “the most recent study in 2013 showed that the most likely cause is a combination of agricultural land use, sewage treatment plants and septic systems.”

That is not what the water quality report from 2013 indicated. Eleven lakes in Digby and Yarmouth counties were surveyed between 2008 and 2012 and the report commissioned by the Environment Department stated that a number of lakes within the Carleton, Meteghan and Sissiboo River watersheds are seriously degraded. The cause of the degradation is primarily due to “high nutrient over-enrichment resulting in the development of high algal concentrations …. These studies have also shown the degradation in water quality to be primarily a result of high phosphorus inputs resulting from releases emanating from mink farming operations …”

The words “septic systems” or “sewage treatment plants” never even appear in the report.

Blue-green algae have affected at least a dozen lakes in Southwest Nova Scotia for almost a decade. It is directly linked to nutrient over-enrichment as a result of mink-farming operations that have been allowed to expand at an alarming rate in this province with little regulatory oversight.

Mink farming
Mink farming

Not all fur farms are to blame for this pollution; in fact about 35 operators are currently having urine and waste feed (the primary source of nutrient pollution) from their operations pumped and trucked to an anaerobic biodigestor in Digby County, where the end products are renewable energy from methane gas and digestate, which is 97 per cent water. The biodigestor facility is currently operating at half-capacity, meaning that another 35 to 40 fur farms could have their waste products trucked to this facility. This would help improve the environmental performance of the fur industry and reduce the volume of pollution entering our lakes.

The Environment Department has a responsibility under the Environment Act to protect our water resources, which includes taking appropriate enforcement action to prevent nutrient pollution of lakes. The provincial government must take steps to strengthen regulatory requirements for the fur industry, specifically by controlling nutrient pollution from these farms.


Photo: Camp Wapomeo in Yarmouth County closed in 2010, due to algae pollution that plagued the lake.

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