Mike Bellew operates an algae skimmer on Killarney Lake.
When the government of Manitoba cracked down on the use of copper sulphate in lakes and rivers in the province about two decades ago, they were effectively going green — in more ways than one.
While the decision to discontinue the use of copper sulphate, more commonly known as bluestone, was necessary as it was having negative effects on the biology of natural waters in the province, there is no arguing the chemical compound had proved itself to be an effective measure in the battle against algae.
Today, many communities situated near lakes have yet to find an environmentally friendly method of battling the green sludge.
In Killarney, town councils, past and present, have tried everything from an underwater curtain that prevented algae from reaching the beach to placing barley-straw bales in the lake to inhibit the growth of algae.
Their biggest nemeses are the nutrients already in the shallow lake.
"We’re definitely monitoring the phosphorus loading in the lake, especially in the spring," Mayor Rick Pauls said.
Less heat and strategies to prevent spring runoff — rich with nutrients — from entering the lake have helped this summer, but as temperatures continue to rise with direct sunlight on the water, it’s just a matter of time before the algae takes over.
Green waters cost Manitoba communities thousands of dollars each year in tourism revenue, but Pauls said Killarney has made a conscious effort to add value in other areas. With the community’s largest summer event, Killarney Beach Fest running from July 20-22, the hope is everything remains clear in the 400-acre lake.
"The lake is a big part of our tourism, but it’s not the only part," Pauls said. "We’ve really put an emphasis on diversifying and our golf course and walking trails are a big draw, but the lake is a big attraction."
If the algae has had an effect on people wading into the waters, it certainly hasn’t slowed down the camping crowd.
Three years ago, Killarney added another 50-site campground at Kerry Park, located on the north side of the lake, that is full every summer weekend. They’re already in the process of looking to add another 50-lot expansion possibly as early as next year.
"Our campgrounds are full and we actually have waiting lists for them. And I think part of that is the campground atmosphere that is here," Pauls said. "It’s a little community and they’ve created their own culture."
Another way the community is trying to battle the algae is by using a pontoon boat designed by Mike and John Bellew that skims the blooms from the surface of the water.
"The skimmer definitely helps," said Jack Garabed, who co-ordinates getting the boat on the lake, volunteers to run it and was formerly a member of the Killarney Water Quality Committee. "It’s just one part along with shoreline restoration, reducing fertilizer inputs on lawns and fields, and everything is working together to make a difference. Everything helps, but nothing cures."
Garabed, who owns a home on the lake, has seen some progress in the last number of years, but believes it’s going to take time to effectively control the algae in the water.
"It’s a community effort that is working toward better water quality," Garabed said. "You can’t sit back and just hope it goes away."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 3, 2012