In 2001, Killarney’s Jeremy Ross carried out a study to examine the effects that barley straw could have on inhibiting algae growth in Prairie waters.
Ross, who at the time was a student at Brandon University under the tutelage of Dr. Bill Paton, carried out his work in cell three of the decommissioned sewage lagoon, using cells one and two as controls.
After adding the barley straw to the water, Ross measured the physical and chemical parameters of the three cells throughout the summer months.
Algae was also identified and quantified during the experiment.
“Blue-green (cynobacterial) species of major concern in the adjacent Killarney Lake were completely inhibited throughout the experimental summer period in cell three,” Paton told the Sun.
“This cell had total phosphate levels comparable with those measure in the lake in the summer of 2011.”
The following year, Ross, who is now a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Oklahoma, planned to test the barley straw in the beach area of the lake.
But according to Paton, “this test was prohibited by Manitoba Environment officials citing unknown effects on other organisms.”
Paton said the research data led to an increase biodiversity in birds, amphibians and invertebrates during the summer in the cell with the barley straw containers.
“This technology developed first in Scotland in the late 1980s, with research over the next 15 years demonstrating the effectiveness of aerobically decomposing barley straw at inhibiting the growth of many nuisance algal species in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes,” Paton said.
“Researchers in Europe also found no toxic impacts on fish, invertebrates or vertebrates. So unfortunately, despite Jeremy’s convincing results, barley straw has never been allowed to be tested in the lake.”
Nicole Armstrong, director of the water science and management branch of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, said she wasn’t in the department when Ross conducted he study and found no records of a request to use barley straw in Killarney Lake.
She is, however, familiar with the use of barley straw.
“It doesn’t kill algae, but it can help prevent the growth of algal blooms in ponds and dugouts,” Armstrong said.
The department is open to any potential solutions, but when asked if it would approve barley straw use in Killarney Lake, Armstrong wouldn’t commit.
“We would say let’s have a look at it,” she said.
“We would need to look at whether or not we think it would be effective and we have evidence that it’s worked in small systems.”
It’s important, she said, to get the right amount of barley straw in the water because as it decomposes it can use oxygen and lead to fish kill.
“We need to look at environmental and health impacts of adding the barley straw.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 10, 2013