Ash Lake in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax would be one of three reference lakes tested under the proposed plan. — Contributed/Irwin Barrett
Ash Lake in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax would be one of three reference lakes tested under the proposed plan. — Contributed/Irwin Barrett

Council’s environmental committee is recommending the municipality start testing lake water quality, implementing a monitoring program for the first time since 2011.

Under a plan submitted to council’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee during its virtual meeting on Thursday, based on a report from consultants AECOM, 74 of the more than 1,000 lakes across Halifax Regional Municipality would be tested.

“Water quality would be tested using routine parameters for lake trophic status, chloride levels, and important observational information such as ice in/out, presence of algae blooms, invasive species or nuisance aquatic plant growth,” Emma Wattie, the municipality’s water resources specialist, wrote in the report to the committee.

“These baseline parameters, especially when collected over several seasons, and when compared to previous study findings, will provide the Municipality with a foundational understanding of lake health. This will be critical to informing management and land development strategies.”

Three of the lakes — Ash, Topsail and Big Cranberry — would be used as reference lakes to gauge changes in water quality in those nearby. They were chosen because they’re unaffected by nearby development or land-use.

The three reference lakes, along with 25 lakes deemed highly vulnerable, would be sampled twice a year, in April and August.

The vulnerability is based on the lakes’ “risk of harmful algae bloom, high chloride concentration, historical E. coli contamination, or other risks from land use.”

The highly vulnerable lakes include Banook, Governors, Loon, Paper Mill, Sandy, and Williams.

The remaining 46 less vulnerable lakes would be tested annually in April. Those include Bissett, Echo, Long, Rocky, Grand and Susies.

“Lakes within the municipality are stressed from land uses such as new development or resource extraction, all of which is exacerbated by a changing climate,” Wattie wrote. “Any funding allocated to a municipal monitoring program can be viewed as an investment, not only into water resources, but into tourism, recreation, ecosystem health, community wellbeing, climate risk management and more.”

The plan is to have city staff conduct some of the testing, but to also rely on community groups to take samples and observe conditions at lakes around the municipality. Some lakes already have community groups ready to do that work, like the Oathill Lake Conservation Society in Dartmouth.

Wattie’s report estimated costs of $250,300 annually once the program is up and running. In fiscal 2021-2022, the cost would be $145,000. That money would be spent hiring a new manager for the monitoring program and buying equipment and software, and there’d be no testing conducted this year.

“You can’t fix what you don’t know about,” Coun. Sam Austin said during Thursday’s discussion.

“Unless you’re out there doing monitoring, monitoring the health of our lakes, we don’t have the opportunity to even identify what the problems are, let alone solutions.”

Wattie’s report states that “The federal and provincial governments share the responsibility over water issues related to agriculture, health and significant national water issues,” and Coun. Tony Mancini argued the data could arm the municipality to go to the province and demand action.

“There may be situations that the municipality can make corrective action. There may be situations where this data helps us to go to the province who really is the authority here, and should be doing this and to advocate for that,” he said.

But Austin noted that the municipality bears the brunt of the water quality issues and it’s often creating them.

“It’s salting the roads, we do that. It’s development. Guess who regulates that? The impacts are on recreation, hey, that’s something we do,” Austin said. “It’s all well and good for us to point the finger at the province and say, ‘This is your jurisdiction, what are you doing?’ To me that’s semantics because the causes of the issues and the impacts of the issues are mainly on us.”

With the committee’s vote in favour of the plan, it heads to regional council for final approval.

The municipality had a lake water quality monitoring program from 2007 to 2011. The staff report doesn’t say why it was cancelled.

Lakes to be tested


  • Ash
  • Topsail
  • Big Cranberry

Highly vulnerable:

  • Albro
  • Banook
  • Bell
  • Charles
  • Chocolate
  • Cranberry
  • Five Island
  • Fletchers
  • Governors
  • Kearney
  • Kidston
  • Long Pond
  • Loon
  • Maynard
  • McQuade
  • MicMac
  • Morris
  • Oathill
  • Paper Mill
  • Penhorn
  • Russell
  • Sandy (Bedford)
  • Settle
  • Springfield
  • Williams (Spryfield)

Moderately vulnerable:

  • Albert Bridge Lake
  • Anderson
  • Barrett
  • Bayers
  • Beaver Bank
  • Beaver Pond
  • Bissett
  • Black Point
  • Brand
  • Charlotte
  • Echo
  • Elbow
  • Fenerty
  • First
  • First Chain
  • Hatchet
  • Hubley Big
  • Kinsac
  • Lamont
  • Little Springfield Lake
  • Long
  • McCabe
  • Mill
  • Miller
  • Moody
  • Petpeswick
  • Porters (North)
  • Porters (Middle)
  • Porters (South)
  • Powder Mill
  • Quarry (Birch Cove)
  • Rocky (North East Basin)
  • Sandy (Glen Arbour)
  • Scots
  • Second
  • Sheldrake
  • Shubenacadie Grand
  • Stillwater
  • Susies (Birch Cove)
  • Third
  • Thomas (North Basin)
  • Thomas (South Basin)
  • Tucker
  • Whites
  • William
  • Wrights

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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