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Shuswap governments urge Interior Health to take lead on algal blooms

Health authority asked to have weekend staff on-call to respond to public inquries
Signs cautioned users of Canoe Beach on Saturday, July 3, 2022, to take care in the beach area because of high water. The lower sign noted the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, the City of Salmon Arm and Interior Health are monitoring an algae bloom in the Salmon Arm Wharf and Sunnybrae/Canoe Point areas of Shuswap Lake. (File photo)

Local governments are calling on Interior Health to provide more clarity and leadership around the reporting of algal blooms.

City of Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison, Sicamous Mayor Colleen Anderson and Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) board chair Kevin Flynn co-signed a letter from Shuswap Watershed Council chair (and Area F director) Jay Simpson to the health authority regarding the process for cautionary advisory notices during algal blooms.

In the letter addressed to IH corporate director Courtney Zimmerman, the signatories note the frustration they shared with residents last summer when a prolonged algal bloom impacted the Salmon Arm Bay area of Shuswap Lake.

A suspected bloom was discovered in June and, according to the letter, IH responded with a request that water samples be collected for microcystin analysis, and that the City of Salmon Arm and the CSRD post cautionary advisory notices at the Salmon Arm wharf and the Sunnybrae Community Park.

Microcystis is a category of cyanobacteria that includes the type that can form toxic blue-green algal blooms.

“While the response from Interior Health was swift, we are concerned that the advisory was recommended without first receiving results from the water samples. Furthermore, the advisory was posted just before the Canada Day long weekend, and IH staff were not available to respond to inquiries from the public…,” reads the letter.

Read more: Algal bloom or pollen?: Salmon Arm city councillor wants more timely water testing

Read more: Parts of Shuswap Lake under ‘cautionary advisory’ due to algal bloom

Another bloom appeared in Salmon Arm Bay in August, the letter continues, and a similar response from IH and local governments followed.

“Thankfully, all water samples collected throughout the algal bloom were clear of microcystin. However, the advisory caused some confusion among residents and visitors recreating on the lake.”

Questions were received by the SWC, the City of Salmon Arm and CSRD staff, and were redirected to IH.

“Unfortunately, IH staff were not available outside of regular working hours to respond to queries…”

The SWC and local governments are recommending the health authority be the lead agency for monitoring algal blooms when there is a potential health risk. This includes collection and analysis of water samples from affected areas, and posting advisories based on testing results. It is also recommended IH take the lead on public communication. IH is also being asked to be more specific with its notices in identifying where an algal bloom is located. Finally, IH is being asked to have staff available to respond to inquiries about algal bloom advisories.

“Having a staff person on-call on weekends would be very beneficial for providing clarifying information about advisories,” reads the letter.

Following the Canada Day weekend, SWC board member and City of Salmon Arm councillor, Debbie Cannon, shared her frustration with the related algal bloom advisory posting, which she said was based on visual reporting, not water testing.

“During this potential algae bloom, it was covered on the top with pollen… but it was crystal clear, you could see down to the bottom of the lake off the docks and stuff,” said Cannon.

In the case of a possible algal bloom, Cannon urged that testing be done immediately.

“We need to put almost like an emergency response in place,” said Cannon.
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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