How to Save a Lake: Part 2

Helping to improve deteriorating water quality and other ecological conditions at Elk/Beaver Lake that pose danger to the health of humans, animals, and the environment is the aim of the ELC submission Recommendations for Optimal Implementation of the Elk/Beaver Lake Watershed Management Plan, which was prepared for the Veins of Life Watershed Society (VOLWS).

For decades, water quality in Elk and Beaver Lakes has been deteriorating, and elevated levels of nutrients are causing a variety of problems. Blooms of neurotoxic blue green algae have sent rowers to hospital and killed dogs. Multiple times throughout the year, beaches in the park have been closed to swimmers and dog activity. Most recently, CRD Alerts in December 2020 advised people and pets to avoid swimming in Elk and Beaver Lakes due to a blue-green algae bloom.

More than 1.5 million visitors per year use the CRD Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park, which includes popular swimming beaches, fishing areas, and it was the location of the Olympic Rowing Team until poor water quality prompted the team to move operations.

The ELC brought attention to this issue back in 2015 when we co-hosted How to Save a Lake, a public forum and information exhibition with the Victoria Golden Rods & Reels Society to raise awareness about the deteriorating quality of Elk and Beaver Lakes and present possible solutions. The forum drew over 200 participants.

The recurring blue-green algae problem triggered a comprehensive response from local governments, and while some steps have been taken over the past five years, jurisdiction over the Lakes is fragmented and no one has yet developed a comprehensive plan to implement solutions (e.g. the health authority has jurisdiction over human health, but now declines to test the water of swim beaches; the local municipality has authority over land use, sewer, and stormwater issues; the regional district has jurisdiction over septic tank inspections and implementation of the park management plan; the provincial government has jurisdiction over many water, fisheries and dam issues; and the federal government has jurisdiction over boating regulations and salmon fisheries issues in the watershed.)

In February 2020, the Capital Regional District (CRD) released the Elk/Beaver Lake Draft Watershed Management Plan for public review and comment. And, in mid-October 2020, the provincial government announced $750,000 in funding to clean up Elk and Beaver Lakes, protect the health of fish and wildlife habitats both in the lakes and downstream, and fund the use of oxidation technology.

John Roe of VOWLS came to the ELC earlier this year to ask for our assistance in reviewing the draft Watershed Management Plan and preparing recommendations to help improve it.

“Elk and Beaver Lakes are the headwaters of the Gorge Watershed, and VOLWS has been working with the ELC on a number of projects and reports over the years related to water quality and source control” said John.

With the support of students in Environmental Studies, the ELC report proposes specific recommendations to support the implementation of the Elk/Beaver Watershed Management Plan in a cost-effective, priority-based manner that furthers the overall goal of improving water quality and lake health. While investigating what legal and policy measures could be implemented to address the toxic blue-green algae, we learned that the new Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management, which the ELC directly triggered with our actions on pollutions in the Hullcar Valley, is helping to significantly improve agricultural practices upstream.

In November, ELC articled student Frances Ankenman joined John Roe and presented the report to the District of Saanich Environmental & Natural Areas Committee.

“The submission presented to the Saanich Environment Committee was well-received, and Saanich Council passed a motion recommending implementing a source control program based on our recommendations. One proud step to repairing our ecosystem,” says John. 

Frances Ankenman, ELC Articled Student (Aug – Dec 2020):

Presenting our report to the Saanich Environmental & Natural Areas Committee gave us the opportunity to raise the profile of our report. For me, this was a great opportunity to practice oral advocacy skills in a local government context. The Committee told us they always look forward to ELC reports, and several committee members expressed gratitude for our work.  

While this report focuses specifically on Elk/Beaver Lake, our hope is that that our research will have broader reach and provide a valuable resource to others working to restore lakes and watersheds throughout BC and beyond. The most rewarding part of this project, for me, was having the opportunity to speak with water quality experts, governments, and environmental conservation organizations to learn about the challenges of and creative solutions to address nutrient overloading in freshwater systems.