Poor water quality in the Red Deer, Medicine and Blindman Rivers was identified as a priority concern in a State of the Environment report compiled by Lacombe County.
The three rivers, as well Haynes and Whelp Creeks, were found to contain water with high nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as more bacteria, parasites and pesticides than is desirable under Alberta Environment’s surface water guidelines.
A “poor” rating is given when guidelines are exceeded significantly, water quality is considered impaired and “well below desirable levels,” or worst quality.
These finding were not a surprise to Lacombe County’s environmental co-ordinator Blayne West — or to many residents of the county, who identified water quality and habitat preservation as their top environmental concerns in public consultations.
The report’s conclusions “resonated with what the community was thinking. What (people) were saying were the major issues, were the major issues,” said West, who took about 1 1/2 years to do the baseline environmental study for the county.
Most lakes in the area fared better than rivers, with Sylvan and Gull Lake achieving a good rating, Buffalo and Lacombe Lake receiving “fair,” while only the Chain Lakes were “poor.”
West said a multitude of factors are responsible for water quality. Runoff from agricultural operations, lawn chemicals, cattle waste and leaking septic tanks from acreages are considered major causes.
Some lakes fared better than others because they have better water flow, and are deeper and bigger, added West, while rivers tend to collect contamination all along their routes. For this reason, she admitted Lacombe County can’t be the only one taking measures to prevent river pollution.
“The idea is, we have to start somewhere. Hopefully we can be a leader in this and there will be a groundswell of support from residents . . . and other counties and municipalities will get on board.”
Now that the county has baseline information on water quality, the next step will determining how to improve things over the next 10 to 20 years. West said more public consultations will be planned as the county works on an environmental management plan to outline targets and priorities and how these can be achieved.
West doesn’t believe the county will legislate tighter environmental rules. Instead, a pubic awareness campaign will likely be launched that asks residents to voluntarily take measures to contain the kind of pollutants that can get into rivers and lakes.
According to other findings in the State of the Environment report, the bio-indicators (amounts of trees, shrubs and other vegetation) surrounding wetlands and riparian areas around lakes is “fair.”
There isn’t enough data available to determine the state of habitat and wildlife biodiversity, or the effects of some human impacts, such as waste generation and disposal. West said this indicates the county will have to start gathering its own data in these areas, perhaps partnering with local groups that can help collect information on flora and fauna.
The county’s environmental management plan is expected to be completed by the summer of 2014.