Sudburians adapting to blue-green algae reports

Blue-green algae reports continue to crop up in waterways across Sudbury, Ont., but one university professor says there is no normal number of blooms.

'In a system like this, we should not be having blooms,' says Laurentian professor Charles Ramcharan

Claire and Dave Smith say they want to take their sons Jake and Carter kayaking more often. The parents say they'll be cautious of algae blooms, but will go out on the water as long as it's clear. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

The sun shines down on Claire Smith who is kayaking on Ramsey Lake with her husband Dave and their sons Jake and Carter. The sun is also lighting up warning signs on many beaches about blue-green algae blooms.

But Smith says she feels comfortable taking her family out on the water, as long as it's clear.

"We're not submerging ourselves in the water, and we're taking necessary precautions to make sure our kids aren't drinking water or getting saturated in it," she says.

The Sudbury & District Health Unit has issued multiple reports of blue-green algae blooms in lakes and on beaches, but officials say it's a pretty normal amount so far for the region.

"Last year, we saw an increase in reports. The year before was dramatically less. But this year, we're on par with where we are most years," says Rylan Yade, an environmental support officer with the health unit.

Rylan Yade, an environmental support officer for the Sudbury & District Health Unit, shows the bottles they use to test water for blue-green algae blooms. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

Both the health unit and the City of Greater Sudbury test for blue-green algae blooms every week, but also rely on reports from lifeguards about the condition of the beaches.

Safe to swim if bloom says bye-bye

Cody Malette is the waterfront program supervisor with the city and has been a lifeguard for seven years. He says people are generally receptive to getting out of the water when lifeguards spot the blooms, but are wondering when they can get back in.

Lifeguards in Sudbury, including waterfront program supervisor Cody Malette, are trained to spot blue-green algae blooms. When they do, they advise everyone to get out of the water and wait for it to pass. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

"We try to let people know that when the bloom is in our buoy lines, we strongly advise them to leave," says Malette.

"But once it's gone, then the water can be used for recreational activities, and it no longer poses that health risk for swimmers."

Blooms are 'man-made problem'

Charles Ramcharan says people shouldn't be fine with any number of blooms. The associate professor at Laurentian University's environmental science department says they're a man-made problem.

"We live on lakes that have very clear water, very low nutrients and there's absolutely no reason we should be having these types of blooms," says Ramcharan.

Charles Ramcharan, an associate professor at Laurentian University's environmental science department, says there is no normal number of algae blooms. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

The exact cause of these blooms is unknown. Various factors like more sunlight, more rainfall and construction run-off could all have an effect. But Ramcharan says the city needs to have a phosphorus budget, especially with a major drinking water supply like Ramsey Lake.

"It's a standard approach to understanding the sources of phosphorous," says Ramcharan.

"Once you understand that, you can start to address the issue a little more intelligently. You can try and reduce the major sources and mitigate its effects."

Create a porous property

Ramcharan says run-off from homes is a concern. Storm drains bring whatever people put on their lawns into the lakes. He advises you make changes to your property like creating a more permeable environment.

"If you're replacing your driveway and it's paved, replace it with something that's porous, like gravel. That helps a lot because that water percolates through the soil and by the time it gets to the lake, it's phosphorous free."

A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by Canadian researchers. (Submitted by: University of Alberta)

The health unit says it has yet to receive any reports of people swimming or coming into contact with blue-green algae.

This shouldn't become normalized says Ramcharan. "It's entirely possible to have a dense urban pop on a system like this and still have a clear lake." 

"It's not like it's some type of impossible goal, just because we're not doing it right now."