It’s time to get serious about cleaning up and protecting Oak Lake. That was the message brought loud and clear to Quinte West’s Public Works Committee Tuesday by several people who live on or very near to the kettle lake located in the northern part of the city.
Residents became alarmed after a serious manure spill from a big pig farm on February 26.
Some estimate as much as 8,000 litres of manure flowed into Oak Lake.
One resident said he saw a large brown plume just under the ice shortly after the spill and the smell of the manure was strong around the lake even before the spill.
The farmer did take measures to stop the spill, using a pump, and building obstacles to the flow but wasn’t entirely successful. Repairs to manure storage and drainage systems on the farm are, or are almost, complete.
The Ministry of Environment was called in, but according to Oak Lake resident Glen Bateman, he was the one to alert the MOE, and not the farmer.
Resident Beverly Shepherd wondered why the city’s PRISM automated phone system wasn’t used to alert people living around the lake.
Director of Public Works, Chris Angelo joined Mayor Jim Harrison in stressing that it is the provincial government, through the MOE and the health unit that is responsible for spills of any kind.
However, Angelo did say that the health unit called him the night of the spill and he directly asked the health unit employee whether they’d like to use the PRISM system to call residents.
The health unit never responded to the request and the system wasn’t called upon.
Councillor Alan Dewitt believes the city should be talking with the health unit and MOE about communication issues. Dewitt also stressed that he knew some residents’ sewage was running directly into the lake at times, and had been for many years. “It’s not just the farmers who are to blame for pollution entering Oak Lake, it’s everyone involved.” Others in the group agreed.
Spokesman for the Oak Lakes Ratepayers, John Brewster, said three main culverts from the lake delivering water and runoff back and forth from the two nearby farms should be immediately cleaned out.
“Some of the culverts are too old and too small. City council needs to set up meetings between residents, farmers, the MOE, Lower Trent Conservation, and other stakeholders. We need a complete new design of the farm and residential drainage system so we can do the work needed to speed up the healing of the lake,” said Brewster.
The city isn’t ready for a complete new drainage design at this point, however council has budgeted $100,000 for a water quality study to be completed over a 12-month period.
The lake’s water will be tested regularly from 11 different locations, with the results being compared to previous studies done 16 years ago, in the 1990s and the 1970s.
A Request for Proposals will soon be advertised for that work.
Water clarity will also be tested, along with quality.
Public Works Director Angelo said costing on major culvert clean-outs will be done and a report will go to committee for discussion soon.
Resident Scott Symons said he, his wife and son fulfilled a dream by owning a home on the water.
“Oak Lake is our lives. It’s a jewel. I know accidents can happen, but I was shocked to hear about old drainage systems passing through farms with runoff heading directly into the water over decades. Feces has been detected in my well water and the water has been smelling bad for some time. Manure is very dangerous to aquatic and human life. We have to take this seriously.”
Another man said health unit staff had alerted residents to the problem soon after the spill on one part of the lake and instructed them to test their drinking water quickly and regularly.
“I have a sediment and UV treatment system at home, and I tested twice after the spill, and the water was clean. I’ve never had any test come back negative since I put in the system back in 1999.”