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Is it a Lake or a Wetland? New study will provide update on Fairy Lake water quality

Fairy Lake will be the subject of a new study to assess water quality issues and management practices. Town Council gave its approval to initiate the Fairy Lake Water Quality Study Update at its monthly council meeting Monday afternoon. The study has been delayed a year because of Covid.


There has been $50,000 already allocated from the budget to fund it. Another $25,000 will be available to the blue-green algae portion of the program which will be coordinated with the University of Guelph and the Credit Valley Conservation Authority.


The last water quality study in 2009 determined that Fairy Lake is really a wetland complex and not really a ‘lake’ as such. “The main recommendation [from that study] focused on managing the lake as a wetland and how to manage the water quality from that perspective.” according to Kevin Okimi, director of Parks and Space, who presented the project charter to Council. “More recently, in the last couple of years, we've had a lot of concerns with blue-green algae.”


Fairy Lake is located on 26 hectares adjacent to the heart of downtown Acton. It might have remained a bog except for the arrival of the Adams brothers almost 200 years ago, who decided that Black Creek would be the perfect spot for a dam to power their grist and sawmills. Fairy Lake is actually considered a PSW (Provincially Significant Wetland) and has a long history of industrial and recreational applications. It is surrounded by parks, residential housing, open spaces, and a couple of trailer parks


Okimi was succinct about the importance of undertaking this study. “We really do want a clear direction that's supported by Council and the public for the on-going management and operation of the lake—a vision as it were for Fairy Lake. We know that Council has, over the years, supported the management of the lake as a wetland, but we also know Council is very supportive of recreational use so we want to make sure we have a clear understanding and a path forward to make sure we understand the implications of how we manage the lake.”


Okimi explained that the proposed study will be broader than the title suggests. “First thing, of course, is trying to establish a updated baseline and an on-going monitoring program for water quality data. We haven't any updates since 2009. In reality the 2009 study did a lot of management options. This study isn't strictly about water quality, it's looking at management. To establish some scientific factual data on the things we've done since that study, that they are achieving the objectives that were set at that time. Also confirming that the objectives are still valid,” he said


Rare and significant species will be part of the report's focus as well as an acknowledgement of climate change which wasn't considered in the previous study. “There has been some talk that the Blanding's turtle is in Fairy Lake. We want to make sure we understand impact on native species, as well as if there is an invasive species that we should be doing more to manage,” Okimi said.


Mayor Bonnette commented on the presence of blue-green algae in Fairy Lake. “That's been a new phenomenon the past few years. A dog can die from drinking the water that contains blue-green algae,” he said.


Okimi replied: “It's known to be toxic to humans and animals. The blue-green algae issue is very important, something that can have an effect on recreation. So we want a consultant that can have an understanding. Blue-green algae has been a more recent emergence so we're trying to get our heads around what that means for the lake.”


Councillor Clark Somerville suggested that residents are not just concerned about the health of the lake, they are passionate about it. He also wondered about the effect of higher water levels, now that repairs to the dam are complete. “Every year the amount of lily pads seems to be moving farther up,” he said.


Councillor John Hurst was agitated about goose excrement and wanted to know about the oiling of eggs to cull the population. “The egg-oiling program has continued, but it isn't an extensive program,” said Okimi. “A couple of staff go out in the spring and oil 15-30 eggs on a regular basis. It's not something that we've done any kind of survey on the number of geese to find out if this is helping, but anecdotally, staff would say this problem still exists because we've had some concerns in the splash pad area and the beach area. “The study looks at what has been done and tells us if they think it's effective and where there are better methods to do it. I know from some discussions I was having with a property owner around the lake, they had essentially mentioned to me that they encouraged geese to be on their property because they think they are nice. If we don't have buy-in from property owners, we may not be having a big effect on the population of geese,” “My advice to you is to start egg-oiling,” replied Hurst. “Given what we know happens to the lake, and the number of days that swimming is actually prohibited because of the quality of the water, maybe the people that think it's nice to have the geese around should rethink their position, maybe with encouragement from us.” The project now goes to a Request For Proposals to various consultants. According to Okimi, the study should be up and running this summer and will include a public consultative process. The subject of winter activities came up a few times. Councillors have, no doubt, been receiving calls from Acton residents used to using the lake for ice skating, fishing and hiking, and not used to being ticketed by by-law officers for doing so. Okimi suggested: “The study will look at all the types of recreation, including challenges around winter use right now.” “On the issue of skating and ice fishing, we do need a strategy about how that can be done,” said Bonnette. “This will be part of the strategy to come back sometime hopefully before next winter, so we don't get the same concerns that are being raised to the councillors and myself.”




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