By Peter Wade
As far back as 1968 it was reported in Brome Lake News that “Pollution Renders Lake Unusable for Second Time in 13 Months – the bloom had to be seen to be believed – a thick green soup covering every inch of the 4,000 acres of the surface water.”
One of the steps to facilitate action on this problem was to combine all jurisdictions around the lake. The Brome Lake Conservation Assoc. (circa 1961-1992) and later Renaissance Lac Brome, provided much-needed leadership in pushing for lake improvement.
Factors affecting lake quality
During the process of aging, a lake becomes rich in nutrients (in particular, phosphorus), which nourish aquatic weeds, algae, and cyanobacteria. When weather conditions are favourable, the water in the lake can turn green – a phenomena known as “algae bloom”.
Correcting the lake’s problems is an ongoing project and requires the participation of all residents and visitors, in particular:
1. Residents near lake and streams – to vegetate their shorelines, refrain from using fertilizers, and keep their septic systems in good condition;
2. Town Council – to keep urbanization low near the lake and streams, to construct sewer systems where necessary and prevent them from overflowing into the lake; manage run-off in roads, ditches and construction sites;
3. Motorboat owners – to avoid high speeds close to shore and in shallow water.
Efforts to restore the Lake
A major first step for the newly-formed TBL was the construction in 1973 of a town sewer serving Knowlton and Bondville, both of which had relied on septic systems (or worse!) for disposal of sewage. Following the construction of the sewer, there remained three main sources of concern regarding sewage:
1. The Duck Farm – A 1991 letter from the Brome Lake Environment Commission quoted estimates that about 36% of the phosphorus entering the lake came from the Duck Farm. Tests in 1998 indicated ‘elevated levels’ of phosphorus in Pearson stream adjoining the farm. Since that time, Duck Farm management has taken steps to correct the situation
2. Shoreline properties and their septic systems – For those without access to a municipal sewer system, current regulations require a standard installation with holding tank and drainage field where property dimensions and soil conditions are suitable. Otherwise, a sealed tank or acceptable alternative are required.
Since the early 1990s TBL has spent over $1 million on studies and consultants. Renaissance Lac Brome (RLB) was formed in 2001 to encourage the town and the residents to do their part in proper disposal of sewage and to observe bylaws and practices such as planting trees and vegetation on riverbanks and shorelines to filter runoff water and limit water contamination.
Over the years, regulations have tightened but unless an installation can be proven to pollute, the town has been reluctant to force conformance to cur-
rent standards – and non-conforming systems are still installed without the inspector’s knowledge. An analysis by RLB concludes that of 249 installations belonging to residents, 71% do not respect the ‘minimum’ distance from the lake!
The same is true for respecting the 15 meters shoreline around the lake. Too many times the town has allowed construction within the protected shoreline.
3. Overflows from the town sewage system – When the pumps fail, since there is no reservoir or holding tank, the town sewage goes directly into the lake.
The early work of the Brome Lake Conservation Assoc., that of RLB, the Brome Lake Land Foundation (in conserving wetlands), the lake bylaws, and the financial support of the town have enabled a drastic improvement in lake quality.
But ongoing care is needed if we want to continue to enjoy the town’s greatest asset, especially with the constantly expanding use of the lake.