Salt, chloride levels in Sudbury's Ramsey Lake reaching critical levels, water group warns

The crown jewel of Greater Sudbury's lakes is suffering an invisible crisis, one that a group of water watchers warn could destroy it's ecosystem — and make it's water all-but undrinkable — in a little more than a decade.

Drinking water, lake's ecosystem are threatened by road salt, says Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance

According to the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, which analyzes municipal and provincial water testing results to monitor water health in Sudbury, Ramsey Lake's "sodium levels are approaching three times the level at which the Medical Officer of Health must be notified so patients on sodium-restricted diets can be alerted; and chloride levels are rapidly approaching a level that can harm aquatic life." (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

The crown jewel of Greater Sudbury's lakes is suffering an invisible crisis, one that a group of water watchers warn could destroy it's ecosystem — and make it's water all-but undrinkable — in a little more than a decade.

According to the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, the salt and chloride levels in Ramsey Lake are approaching critically high levels, due in large part to the use of winter road salt. 

The group this week released a report compiled from a recent panel discussion on salt levels in Ramsey. 

Dr. Richard Denton, chair of the group, said that chloride salt is now showing up at about three times the level considered healthy in human drinking water — or for microorganisms to thrive and survive. 

"Animal life as well as plant life can be affected," he said. "This happens particularly with the smaller, microscopic types of animal and plant life being affected first. These will die off, and then more resilient forms of aquatic life such as blue-green algae then becomes more prominent."

Dr. Richard Denton, chair of the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance. (Supplied)

About 50,000 Sudburians drink the water our of Ramsey Lake. Denton, who is a retired family physician, said people on a sodium restricted diet should be concerned about the current level of salt in the lake — and he added, salt can't be filtered out.

"Filtration certainly does not work. It's fine for removing particulate matter, but we're talking salt, and Brita filters will not get rid of salt."

Denton said that Ontario's Medical Officer of Health has already alerted local medical professionals about the high level of salt in Ramsey Lake.

A question of road safety?

The city has acknowledged that there are concerns about the impact of winter road salt, saying on its website, "The city mitigates the impact ... on the environment by minimizing its use of salt while still maintaining safe roads for motorists and pedestrians."

"Road salt is used to help make winter travel safe for motorists and pedestrians throughout the city," it continued. "Using road salt ... allows the city to abide by the Provincial Minimum Maintenance Standards and the city's own policy for winter road maintenance."

The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance argues that salt isn't effective below -10 C, and posits that there are other solutions for roads, including using other chlorides, more sand, or using nothing at all. 

The group plans to continue petitioning the city to significantly reduce its use of winter road salt.   

With files from Jessica Pope

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