Whistle Bend 'rain garden' grows million dollar problem

The 'rain garden' in Whitehorse's new Whistle Bend neighbourhood - intended as a retention and evaporation pond for storm run-off - has become choked with algae.

'We do have an algae bloom here, that's correct,' says Yukon government official

Look what's just moved into the neighbourhood - algae blooms. (Vic Istchenko/CBC)

Its name may suggest an appealing natural freshness, but the "rain garden" in Whitehorse's new Whistle Bend neighbourhood is attracting no bathers. It looks, and smells, like a sewage lagoon.

"We do have an algae bloom here, that's correct," said Ron Bramadat with the government's department of community services, as he surveyed the rain garden that's blanketed with green.

The "garden" — built to be a retention and evaporation pond for storm run-off in Whistle Bend — has been overtaken by algae, forcing Yukon government officials to plan a million dollar fix.

"There's certain factors that all come together to create this particular condition," according to Bramadat.

One factor is an aeration system, installed two years ago, that's not operating effectively. Another is the simple reason the man-made pond exists in the first place — people now live in the area.

"We now have lawns, people with pets, people washing their cars. All that may contribute to the fact that we're bringing nutrients into this retention pond," Bramadat said.

Algae blooms — microscopic plants — flourish in freshwater that's rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. Fertilizers, soaps and sewage effluent are all sources of such nutrients.

Drain the pond and dig it deeper

Now the Yukon government is looking for someone to fix the problem, and help make the pond more pleasant and more effective at handling storm run-off.   

'We now have lawns, people with pets, people washing their cars' in the neighbourhood, said Ron Bramadat of Yukon's department of community services. (CBC)

The plan is to drain the pond, dig it deeper, and also install a pumphouse and forcemain to regulate the water level. A fountain and an aerating bubbling system will help discourage algae growth.

The work went out to tender last month, with bids ranging from $909,000 to $1.33 million.

Bramadat says the work should begin this fall, so next year residents won't be looking out at a scummy green pond.

"We'll have a lot of solutions in place so this will not happen again," he said.

The city of Whitehorse is also advising Whistle Bend residents to avoid using lawn fertilizers and pesticides, pick up after their pets, and to wash their vehicles at commercial car wash facilities. 

With files from Vic Istchenko


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