B.C. Shuswap plan maps out ways to cut phosphorus to reduce algal blooms

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The SWC action plan has a number of suggestions for homeowners, businesses, and local governments in the area to follow for a smaller phosphorus footprint. Photo Credit: Kyle, stock.adobe.com

A new action plan is recommending ways that industry and residents can help to reduce their “phosphorus footprint” in British Columbia’s Shuswap watershed.

The Salmon arm of Shuswap Lake experienced two widespread algal blooms in the past three years, in part, due to influxes of phosphorus into the lake.

The new 16-page action plan from the Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) addresses the importance of nutrient management in protecting water quality and preventing future algal blooms.

Elevated phosphorus levels in aquatic environments can increase algal growth, reduce water clarity, create odours, and reduce the quality of water for drinking and recreation. In a worst-case scenario, warns SWC, it can lead to harmful algal blooms that are toxic to people, pets and livestock.

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“To have two large algal blooms occur in three years is unprecedented. We are very concerned about the health of the lake,” said Jay Simpson, chair of the SWC, in a media announcement. “We know residents are also very concerned and they’re wondering what can be done to protect the lake from future algal blooms.”

Phosphorus is regulated under several pieces of provincial legislation. For example, the Environmental Management Act regulates the operation of wastewater treatment plants; The Agricultural Environmental Management Code of Practice regulates agricultural operations.

The SWC action plan has a number of suggestions for homeowners in the area to follow for a smaller phosphorus footprint. Septic tanks, for instance, need to be in good working order. Residents should also not dump solvents down drains, or choose high-phosphorus products for cleaning and laundry.

Waterfront homeowners are encouraged to reduce fertilizer use and maintain natural shoreline vegetation as much as possible to reduce erosion.

The action plan asks recreational boaters to minimize boat wakes to prevent erosion, and not to discharge blackwater or greywater into bodies of water.

In terms of highway contractors, the action plan asks for workers to consider the impact of hosing down bridges in the spring to remove excess dirt and traction material, and look for alternative ways to do maintenance.

When it comes to municipal governments, the action plan encourages them to apply for grants that can advance wastewater treatment systems, as well as design new, or modify existing, drainage and stormwater systems to slow runoff into lakes and rivers, and recapture nutrients. Local governments can also avoid building over or filling in wetlands, and utilize flood mapping for future development projects.

The SWC is also calling on the B.C. government to protect water quality through regular water quality monitoring, setting water quality objectives, investigating and responding to spills and pollution, and ensuring compliance with regulations to protect the environment. SWC wants to see nutrient monitoring instruments at hydrometric stations on Shuswap and Salmon Rivers, and ensure sufficient water for fish in late summer, in particular in the Salmon River.

A Water Quality Grant Program by SWC offers up to $50,000 per year for projects that reduce, capture, or divert nutrients away from surface waters.

The action plan is based on water quality research projects carried out by the SWC in partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.

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