Water conditions improving in Killarney Lake

·5 min read

It’s hard to imagine a more quintessential summer activity than taking a dip in one of Westman’s many beautiful lakes.

People of all ages flock to local beaches, hoping to beat the heat and make the most of a short summer season.

Unfortunately, lakes in the Prairies are up against some tough issues that can affect water quality, perhaps most notably algae blooms and toxins. But the Town of Killarney is leading the way in ensuring its lake — and all those who enjoy it — stay safe and healthy.

Algae blooms have been a problem in Killarney Lake, as well as many other lakes in southern Manitoba, causing water quality problems and creating water that looks and smells unpleasant.

Although some amount of algae is a sign of a healthy lake, since they provide food and oxygen to different aquatic creatures, too much is never a good thing. Caused by excess concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, and exacerbated by hot weather, the blue-green algae called cyanobacteria has the potential to produce toxins that can put people and animals at risk.

Four years ago, the problem of algae blooms in Killarney Lake was causing issues for residents of the town and those who came to enjoy its beautiful beach and campgrounds.

Betty Sawatzky, chair of the Killarney Lake Action Committee, said it became a detriment to the entire community.

Swimming lessons held at the beach had to be cancelled, and as early as the end of June the beach would have to shut down due to the high levels of toxins from the algae.

“It was a continuously growing problem so that by the time we were into August, the lake was not a good place to be. It wasn’t a fun place to be, and the blue-green algae were taking over,” Sawatzky said.

People even went so far as to leave town to enjoy water recreation, and others that might have visited the town and stayed at its campsites were choosing other locations. It was time to find a solution. That’s when, four years ago, the Killarney Lake Action Committee dove into the scene, working with a team from Pelican Lake who were facing the same issues. Together the two committees collaborated to determine the best strategy for making the lake healthy again.

After considering a few alternatives, including the harvesting of cattails and making use of a machine that would go over the lake and scoop of the algae, a solution was found. An aeration field system was installed, featuring 60 micro-bubbler heads laid at the bottom of the lake. They push up oxygen with air compressors, similar to a giant aquarium that keeps the water moving while adding oxygen to the lake at the same time. The system runs all year round, though it is tapered down in the wintertime.

“We did everything by hand,” Sawatzky said, adding they worked with a local electrician, members of the Pelican Lake Committee and Manitoba Hydro to get the job done.

The community played a huge role too, raising around $80,000 in the span of three months from local citizens and businesses. Of that amount, around $30,000 was left over. No money was forthcoming from government grants for the endeavour.

The dynamics of the lake are always changing, so the leftover money will go toward any issues that might come up.

Thankfully, the dry heat of last summer didn’t cause any health issues for the lake. This year, with the water level in the lake being higher due to snowmelt and rainfall, the committee is aware of the possibility of potentially having to extend the aeration field deeper into the lake or over to the end that borders the golf course.

The money will also go to routine maintenance of the system.

Each subsequent year following the installation of the system has seen improvements to the water quality at Killarney Lake. There’s been more underwater plant growth due to clearer water, allowing more photosynthesis to take place below the surface of the lake. This helps the population of all aquatic creatures, including perch, who lay their eggs on the weeds. Clam and freshwater shrimp populations are up, and the lake floor is much healthier in general. Despite the recent spate of hot weather, the lake has been very clear, with not even one algae bloom appearing, although a few per year are always expected, as with any lake in Westman.

Tammy Munroe, who is part of the Killarney Agricultural Society, said having a healthy lake is extremely important to the entire town. The ag society runs a campground on the lake, and with surging interest in camping excursions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having a clean lake for people to enjoy is essential.

“It’s aesthetically pleasing to see the clean water. When it’s green, it’s generally smelly, so it’s not very appealing to get into, and our campground is right on the edge of the water, so we’re directly affected by that,” Munroe said.

With people enjoying a variety of activities on the lake, from kayaking and paddle boating to fishing and swimming, a healthy lake makes for happy campers.

Sawatzky said she is proud of the success the aeration project has seen over the past four summers, and has even heard from other communities, such as Shoal Lake and Sandy Lake, who are learning about Killarney Lake’s success and applying it to their own algae issues.

No beach report conditions are available yet from Manitoba Environment, Climate and Parks.

» mleybourne@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @miraleybourne

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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