British Columbia

Quamichan Lake task force to fight toxic algae with barley

Assigned task force to conduct experiments using barley to reduce levels of toxic blue-green algae in popular lake

Task force experiments with barley to reduce levels of toxic blue-green algae in popular lake

A task force assigned to clean up Quamichan Lake is considering fighting toxic blue green algae (left) with barley (right). (Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press/Eamon Curry/Flickr)

A task force charged with reducing levels of toxic algae suspected of killing several dogs that swam in Quamichan Lake is hoping barley will do the trick.

According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, when mixed into the lake, the bacterial properties of barley make it a perfect foil for the deadly blue-green algae.

"Barley turns out to be a very good medium to grow bacteria that would consume the phosphorus that the blue-green algae love," he said.

"The hope is the barley would provide a breeding ground for these bacteria that would consume enough of the phosphorus, [so] the blue-green algae would not have those ideal conditions [to thrive]."

Exposure to blue-green algae is believed to have caused the death of at least four dogs who swam in Quamichan Lake. (Submitted by: University of Alberta)

Running tests

The algae is suspected in the deaths of at least four dogs late last year, leading to the assignment of the Quamichan Lake Water Quality Task Force.

HealthLinkBC advises blue-green algae can sometimes release toxic chemicals into water, which when drunk, can kill pets and livestock and make humans ill.

Lefebure is the chair of the task force and says the plan to add barley will first be subject to several tests, including using it in some of the streams that flow into the lake.

Dave Thompson's champion retriever "Thor" died on a duck-hunting outing at Quamicham Lake within hours of exposure to toxic blue-green algae. (Dave Thompson)

"We could test the water in the stream before the barley and after the barley — and then we could find out if the barley had been effective in removing nutrients before they got in the lake."

The mayor says the task force is also experimenting with other solutions, including adding the mineral zeolite, which would similarly target the phosphorus.

"We don't really believe that it's necessarily going to be the entire solution — but it may be part of what we have to do

With files from CBC's On the Island