Nova Scotia

Windsor residents say federal order has led to dust bowl conditions

A federal order to control water flow at the Windsor causeway has created extremely dry conditions in the drained bed of Lake Pisiquid, according to locals. The order has gotten mixed reactions as it allows for fish passage at the expense of drying up the lake and lowering the Avon River.

Lake Pisiquid remains dry as part of an order controlling water flow at Windsor causeway

The dry bed of Lake Pisiquid between Windsor and Falmouth has been the cause of recent sand and dust storms, according to locals. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Some people in the Windsor, N.S., area say they don't want to keep living in a dust bowl.

A federal order to control water flow at the Windsor causeway has created extremely dry conditions in the drained bed of Lake Pisiquid, according to locals.

Residents say high winds are kicking up the sand left behind where the Avon River and Lake Pisiquid flowed. While Tuesday's winds did not cause the first dust bowl this spring, many said it was the worst to date.

"I washed my eyes out three times," Doris Nichols, a Windsor resident, said Wednesday. "My throat, my voice, has become very hoarse. So I stayed inside the rest of the day and I didn't go outside again."

Nichols said although she cleaned her sunroom thoroughly Tuesday, it was full of sand again Wednesday after the high winds.

Dust in Windsor

5 months ago
Credit: Debbie Woodman 0:19

Fellow Windsor resident Darlene Taylor said locals had to shut their windows against the blowing dirt and sand, and those who didn't follow suit came back to an "unbelievable" mess.

"It wasn't safe to be outside, health-wise," Taylor said.

Highway 101 runs over the Avon River from Lake Pisiquid. There are gates between the two bodies of water to allow fish to be able to swim through.

The man-made lake is drained every spring, but this year it is staying dry longer because of a ministerial order from federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.

The order, which was put in place in March, means Nova Scotia's Department of Agriculture must operate the tidal gates at the Avon River in a manner that improves fish passage. 

Darlene Taylor of Windsor says it's not healthy to be outside during heavy dust and sandstorms. (CBC)

The order was originally in place until April 3, but subsequent orders with the same direction have been issued every two weeks since then.

Indigenous groups set up an encampment last summer next to the causeway, saying they were concerned about rocks and fill from the Highway 101 twinning project going into the water and making it more difficult for fish to swim through.

Mayor Abraham Zebian of the West Hants Regional Municipality said there have been about six dust storms so far this year that have affected everyday life in the area.

Zebian said DFO told council in an update Tuesday that any decision to change or end the ministerial order would have to undergo consultation with the Mi'kmaq.

Zebian says ongoing sandstorms have been caused by a ministerial order controlling water flow at the Windsor causeway. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The next deadline for the order is June 2, and Zebian said he does not know if it will be extended.

"The current state and the current decisions that are being made are unacceptable in my opinion and council's opinion," Zebian said.

"A proper solution needs to be made, and made in an expedited way to avoid the sandstorms, to avoid the negative impacts."

Kings-Hants MP Kody Blois has written to Jordan, asking her to suspend the order in June.

Blois told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Wednesday that he's heard from various residents living and working along the Avon River and Lake Pisiquid who are concerned about long-term effects if the order is continued year-round.

Doris Nichols, a Windsor resident, holds up cloths used to clean her hot tub and inside her home after a sandstorm on May 26, 2021. (CBC)

Local farmers and firefighters usually pump freshwater from the river, while Ski Martock owners draw from the Avon during the fall and winter months to make snow. Blois said the owners are worried about salinity issues and how they'll adapt if water levels remain this way.

Members of the Pisiquid Canoe Club can't paddle at the moment because there is no lake in front of their clubhouse.

Blois noted in his letter to Jordan that instead of protecting fish species, low levels in the Avon could lead to mass fish deaths, like a fish kill that occurred last year near the causeway.

He said a solution must address the various concerns and interests of all those involved.

"We have to try to find a way to balance these. It's not easy," he said.

The Highway 101 twinning project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. 

In an email, Nova Scotia's Transportation Department said it continues to work with DFO on the design of the new structure for water flow.

With files from Paul Palmeter and Mainstreet