Septic Environmental Concerns
Lake Huron Water Quality
Though many people thinkg of E. coli levels when beach water quality is dicussed, algae (Cladophora spp.) blooms are becoming more and more common along the Great Lakes shoreline. Often, these blomms get washed in to shore with the waves and rot along the beaches. This results in smelly, unappealing beaches that end up being closed to users.
Cladophora blooms are occuring in the Great Lakes due to a number of factors, including increased numbers of Zebra Mussels, excess Phosphorus availability, and man-made structures (e.g. harbours, groynes) that prevent water movement and trap floating algae mats. Currently, it's not clear which algae species is dominating these mats. Additionally, since each species has different requirements, it is also difficult to pinpoint which factor is the one that will limit the algae growth. Within the Pine River watershed, beaches such as Boiler Beach and Lurgan's Beach are currently having issues with algae buildup, as can be seen from the images above. Both residents and visitors have noticed a change in the amount of algae buildup on the beaches.
Eutrophication is the slow, natural nutrient enrichment of streams and lakes. It is responsible for the 'aging' of ponds, lakes and reservoirs. The 'aging' of a water body can be a natural process, continually occurring over time. As nutrient levels increase, the number of growing plants also increases.
As these plants die, and begin decomposing, oxygen concentrations within the water decrease and less oxygen is avilable for living plants and animals as a result. As the aging process continues, fewer and fewer aquatic plants are able to survive, and the water body tends to become still and stagnant. Eventually, the stream or pond will fill in, and terrestrial plants will take over. While this is a natural process, the eutrophication of water bodies can be significantly sped up when excess nutrients, such as phosphates and nitrates, are released into the water system. Phosphates and nitrates are common ingredients in many household and lawn care products, It is important to read the labels of the product before purchasing to help reduce the eutrophication where you live.
Phosphorous in Aquatic Ecosystems
In moderate amounts, phosphorus is one of the key elements required for the healthy growth of plants and animals. When present at proper levels, this can create more food for fish and other aquatic wildlife and improve water quality. When phosphorus is found at levels greater than 0.04 mg/L - a general standard set by Environment Canada - it can over stimulate plant and algae growth, leading to 'choked out' waterways and low dissolved oxygen concentration. Often, phosphorous concentrations are higher in waterways after a rainfall event. As the rainwater travels over land, it removes excess phosphorus from the soil and washes it into local creeks, rivers and ponds. High phosphorus levels not only upset the equilibrium of aquatic environments but also cause odor, aesthetic issues and beach closures. In aquatic environments phosphorus levels become higher thatn the Canadian standard due to inputs from agricultural fertilizer chemicals, malfunctioning septic systems, animal feces and wastewater treatment plants.
Nitrates in Aquatic Ecosystems
Normally, only small levels of nitrates are found from natural sources within a waterway. Most often, elevated nitrate levels occur due to man-made influences, such as malfuctioning septic systems, fertilizer run-off or improperly treated wastewater. As with phosphorus, excess nitrates stimulate plant growth and can lead to the eutrophication. As well, nitrate concentrations higher than 4 mg/L have been shown to negatively impact aquatic widlife, particularly frogs and other amphibians.
21 Queen Street, P.O. Box 130, Ripley ON N0G 2R0