British Columbia

Something stinks in Charlie Lake — and residents want it weeded out

Weeds are getting caught in boat motors, decomposing plants and algae are creating a stink, and residents of Charlie Lake are getting fed up.

More weeds in the water are deterring visitors and creating a terrible smell, locals say

Charlie Lake, B.C., resident Doug Hiebert says he hauled 2,400 kilograms of weeds out of the lake and to the dump earlier this summer. (Kelli Hiebert)

The weeds in Charlie Lake have never been this bad, according to local residents — and neither has the smell. 

Weeds all around the lake, just northwest of Fort St. John, B.C., have grown from the lake bottom and sit on the surface, reaching almost six metres tall in places, making it tough for anyone to use shallow parts of the water. 

"We have lost a lot of tourism because of it," long-time resident Doug Hiebert told CBC's Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"It's an absolute mess."

Hiebert estimates boater traffic is down about 75 per cent of what it was five years ago, and he attributes the lack of interest in using the lake to the influx of the plants, which he says smell rotten and almost fishy. 

"Everybody's disgusted," Hiebert said.

He says he's been pulling out the weeds by hand so his family can use their dock, or take the boat out without getting the propeller tangled. Earlier this summer, he says, he took 2,400 kilograms of lake plants to the dump. 

Weeds are sitting on top of Charlie Lake, making shallow parts of the water hard to swim in. (Kelli Hiebert)
 

Charlie Lake residents have taken to social media to voice their concerns. 

"I can't open my windows today or I will die just from the smell," one person wrote in a private community group. 

"I went kayaking in it a couple weeks ago — never again! My paddle was literally stained from it," said another. 

The weeds are getting caught in boat propellers, meaning locals and tourists alike are reluctant to take their vessels out on Charlie Lake. (Kelli Hiebert)

But the growing number of weeds may actually be a sign of the lake returning to its original state. 

Charlie Lake Conservation Society volunteer Bruce Kosugi said a weir was installed at the end of the lake in the late 1970s, making the water level rise and resulting in aquatic plant beds dying off. Now, those plant beds are re-establishing around the lake. 

"We sent some samples to the Ministry of Environment and they identified them as being native or natural aquatic plants for our area," he said. 

The society has been monitoring plant types and quantities at several locations around the lake, Kosugi said, adding that algae could be blowing into particular spots and dying off, releasing a strong odour. 

"We've had algae in the lake for years, even before the plants were around the lake," Kosugi said. 

"There are areas around the lake where the blue-green algae may accumulate.  If it starts decomposing then they'll start to smell and even the plants themselves, if it builds up and starts rotting, it'll smell."

Weeds and algae in Charlie Lake are releasing a rotten, almost fishy odour across the lake, according to Doug Hiebert. (Kelli Hiebert)

Hiebert said he's called around other municipalities with lakes to find out how they deal with the weeds, and he has a particular interest in weed-harvesting machines. 

While that seems like a simple solution, Kosugi said if residents did purchase a weed harvester or contract someone to take care of their aquatic plant problem, it would require a special permit and, because the weeds aren't considered invasive, the province may be reluctant to authorize harvesting. 

But Hiebert wants something done about the weeds so that he and his grandkids can continue to enjoy the lake without worrying about smell and having to pull out the plants. 

"I think there are ways that people would get together and deal with it," he said.

Weeds are getting caught in boat motors, decomposing plants and algae are creating a stink, and some residents of Charlie Lake are getting fed up. But the return of weeds and algae may be a sign the lake is getting healthier. 13:30

With files from Andrew Kurjata and Daybreak North

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