MLA Report: Action needed to preserve Saanich lakes

Elk and Beaver lakes could eventually become a slimy, weed-infested swamp unfit for human contact

Lana Popham stands on the shores of Elk Lake.

Did you know that Elk and Beaver lakes are dying?

The danger is already evident: blooms of noxious cyanobacteria are now common. The resulting algae is poisonous to humans. I’m sure you’ve noticed that in recent years the lakes have been regularly closed to swimmers because of high levels of toxins. This water can make people very sick and is potentially lethal for dogs. In fact, a water advisory by the Capital Regional District has been in place for weeks warning the public not to swim in Beaver Lake. The health of fish and other organisms in the lake is decreasing and harmful aquatic weeds are spreading rapidly.

If we don’t act, the lakes will eventually become a slimy, weed-infested swamp unfit for human contact.

Elk and Beaver lakes, as we know them today, were created in the 1870s by the construction of a dam in order to provide drinking water to Victoria. The nutrient-rich marsh land which was flooded in the process, as well as pollution in the years that followed, has led to a severe excess of phosphorous in the water. Although the pollution has mostly stopped, there is now enough phosphorous concentrated in the lakes to eventually choke out almost all life.

And yet right now this is the most popular natural place in the region. I don’t need to convince you how wonderful this spot is. Every year hundreds of thousands of us visit these lakes and the surrounding regional park. The lakes are used extensively by swimmers, rowers and fishers. Many of us also love to relax on the beach, picnic in the park or attend events like Saanich’s annual Strawberry Festival. Other popular activities include wind-surfing, canoeing, radio yacht racing, water-skiing and sailing. The surrounding trails are also used by walkers, runners, cyclists and horse-riders.

We all share a responsibility to protect these lakes for our children and future generations.

I am pleased to write that excellent work is already underway. As the MLA for Saanich South, I want to publicly acknowledge the remarkable contributions made by members of the Victoria Golden Rods and Reels Fishing and Social Club, Peninsula Streams Society and the Colquitz Coalition, the Environmental Law Centre at UVic, the BC Lake Stewardship Society and the rowing community. Special mention is needed for the herculean efforts made by Mick Collins, Robert McConnell, Rick Nordin. Thank you all. You have our enduring gratitude.

The CRD is also strengthening their efforts to address this issue. They’ve hired a project co-ordinator and are working intensively to develop an action plan in the next year. Options under consideration at this early stage include: adding a binding agent to capture the phosphorous, aeration and/or dredging. The CRD has also recently purchased a weed harvester to manage the aquatic vegetation.

Can the lakes be saved? Yes. The question now under intense study is how that can best be accomplished. Excellent background information is available at colquitzcoalition.com. I am confident we will have remediation options to consider by mid 2017.

I look forward to working with community groups and all levels of government to make sure appropriate actions are taken in a timely, cost-effective and efficient manner. The public expects and deserves no less than that.

Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.