News of an algae bloom at Pine Lake is getting a lukewarm response from people who live around its shores.
Alberta Health Services issued an advisory on Tuesday warning people that blue-green algae had been found in the lake with resulting potential for exposure to toxins in the water.
The advisory states that people, pets and livestock should not drink or enter the water and people should limit their consumption of fish from the lake, which is located about 40 km southeast of Red Deer.
Boiling water does not eliminate the toxins produced by the algae, says the advisory.
Dr. Feoma Achebe, one of three medical officers of health in the Central Alberta Zone, said Pine Lake is among the Alberta water bodies routinely tested for blue-green algae during the summer.
Tests revealed some algae last week, but it wasn’t until this week that the levels were high enough to warrant the advisory, she said.
Achebe was unable to say whether anyone had become ill or experienced other physical problems, since conditions associated with algae poisoning are not on the list of disease that physicians are required to report.
Consuming or coming into contact with contaminated water can cause a variety of physical affects, including fever, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, sore throat, swollen eyes and swollen lips.
People familiar with the lake don’t think the current algae bloom is anything out of the ordinary.
“It’s been like that for five years,” says area resident Ole Johansen, who refuses to go into the water regardless of warnings and advisories from Alberta Health Services.
Boats docked at Whispering Pines are consistently coated in green slime from the water and there are fewer skiers on the lake every year, said Johansen.
Members of the Pine Lake Restoration Society have done what they can, said Johansen. He believes the health of the lake should fall squarely on the shoulders of Alberta Fish and Wildlife, the department responsible for managing the lake’s populations of pike, perch and walleye.
Fish and Wildlife and the various conservation groups that maintain sites at Pine Lake need to analyze the water and then set out a program to clean it up, said Johansen.
Ed Lawrence, president of the Pine Lake Restoration Society, said conditions on the lake can change from hour to hour, depending on the weather.
Like any other shallow lake in Central Alberta, Pine Lake experiences algae blooms in stagnant areas when the weather is hot and sunny. The blooms go hand in glove with fish kills, such as the losses reported last summer, he said.
Unlike many of the other lakes, including Gull and Sylvan, Pine Lake has a very large drainage area, which contributes to large volumes of nutrients flowing into the lake, said Lawrence.
The same warm, sunny conditions that produce the bloom also drive fish deeper into the water, where there is less oxygen, he said. The pike, perch and pickerel that live in Pine Lake cannot survive in the warm water at the surface any better than in the oxygen-deprived depths, so there will be fish kills when it’s hot and sunny at the surface, he said.
Clarity tests have shown gradual improvement in water conditions in the two decades since the restoration society installed a system that pumps nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the lake and moves it to streams where it is naturally filtered as it flows toward the Red Deer River, said Lawrence.
Jim Wood, mayor of Red Deer County, also commended the Pine Lake Restoration Society for its efforts at improving the health of the lake.
A farmer and longtime area resident, Wood concurred with others who stated that Pine Lake has a history of algae blooms, which they also believe are dependent on weather conditions.
The county helps fund the restoration society and runs programs of its own to help reduce the volume of nutrients entering the lake from farms in the area.
People who visit or use the lake should take heed of any warnings concerning water quality, said Wood.
The advisory will be unwelcome news to recreation facilities and users, but the conditions that prompted it will pass and the lake will once again be safe to use, he said.