A fragile lake – more action required

For more than ten years now, Renaissance Lac Brome has been helping to improve the quality of Brome Lake’s water. Important progress has been made. Phosphorus levels have been reduced. But the reduction target of 50% in five years set in 2011 has not been reached. Phosphorus is the main culprit in the emergence of blue green algae that plague the lake every summer. It comes into the lake with runoff water, with fertilizers, with defective septic systems; it is also encouraged when there is not enough shoreline vegetation to hold it into the ground and when motor boats stir up phosphorus rich sediments in the lake close to shores.

Over the years, TBL has adopted more severe bylaws – runoff, fertilizers, septic systems, shoreline protection and the residents’ awareness and the support of property owners has largely eased the situation. However, much remains to be done to turn a “fragile” lake into a sustainable one.

Every August, water quality shows a drastic deterioration. It coincides with the appearance of blue green algae bloom. Other than stormy weather and the sediments present in the water, the most controllable factor behind this seasonal deterioration is the presence of powerful motor boats on the lake during the summer months. At present, motorboats are not allowed to operate at more than 10km/h at less than 150 metres from shore. Adding a 3-metre depth to the existing rules would help; stirring up sediments in shallow water close to shores releases large amounts of phosphorus into the lake.

A majority of lake dwellers are mindful of the restrictions and aware of the risks. But many non-resident boaters use the lake for a day or a week-end and then leave. There is no control over who accesses the lake. Restrictions over traffic in certain sensitive areas, identification of users of the lake and the imposition of a user fee would help. Non-resident users of Douglass Beach have to pay the town a $10 fee to park during the summer months and boaters all over the lake, nothing. Identifying specific zones for wakeboards use would limit the damages caused by these boats that literally plough the bottom to produce waves, stirring up sediments in the process.

Bylaws are only as good as their enforcement. Over the years, the lake patrol has been doing a good job of informing and warning users of the lake. It may be time to be more forceful and to impose fines to those who disregard the measures to save the lake. The patrollers have the necessary power to enforce regulation just as police officers would.

Federal jurisdiction over motorboat traffic is often seen as an obstacle to the adoption of efficient bylaws. In reality, Council already has tools to better protect the lake. At a time when the lake is made the center piece of the town’s revitalization plan, Council must take the lead and get public support. It was done in the past and it worked. Enforcing more stringently the rules on motorboats is the next necessary step to protect Brome Lake.

When our lake is destroyed, property values will go down and one of the main economic driver of our town will be history. Should that happen, we will only have ourselves to blame.