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Glace Bay fishing group calls on government to clean up contaminated lake

Dec 25, 2023

A group in Glace Bay, N.S., says the water in a local lake is contaminated and is asking the provincial government to clean it up before stocking the pond with more trout.

The No. 20 Dam Sport Fishing Association paid to have the water tested at the John Bernard Croak Memorial Park on Beacon Street in September and president Donald McNeil said the results show levels of E. coli and total coliform that exceed Health Canada guidelines.

"At one time you could count every rock on the bottom, every stick, everything ... crystal clear water," the 74-year-old retired miner said.

"One time here, seven days a week, rain, ice, snow, [there were] fishermen. Everywhere. All along there, everybody up there fishing, because you got fish and it was clean and nice."

McNeil said the water quality in the Cape Breton lake has been deteriorating for years and he is concerned about dead animals found around the lake's shore. That has him worried about the fish being stocked by the province and the people who have to touch the water to catch fish from the lake.

The association's water test found E. coli and coliform counts exceeding 200 bacteria per 100 millilitres of water, while Health Canada's guideline for recreational water is less than 200 bacteria per 100 millilitres of water.

The sport fishing group's test also found levels of isobutylbenzene and dotriacontane, two hydrocarbons that are sometimes found in surface water, at concentrations that are generally within allowable limits.

McNeil said he suspects the contamination is coming from storm water from nearby streets and is being concentrated by a dam that is keeping the lake from draining properly.

"The dam has got to go and the drainage pipes have got to go," he said.

"The drainage pipes are poisoning this place. God knows what's in the fish when that stuff is coming in."

In an email last fall between Department of Fisheries staff released under a freedom of information request, the province revealed that trout stocking in No. 20 Dam was put on hold due to concerns over "high contaminated levels" in the water.

The province conducted its own test in December and found the E. coli count was down to 40, which is within Health Canada's acceptable limit, but it found a total coliform count of 579, which exceeds the limit.

The province's test also found normal levels of minerals and metals. In a recent email, the department said the results "indicated that there were no concerns to fish health" and that stocking had resumed in December and as recently as last month.

It did not provide anyone for an interview and did not address the issue of Health Canada guidelines on human contact with the water.

Nova Scotia's fisheries and environment departments jointly sample lakes across the province and post the results online.

According to the province's records, the last provincial assessment at No. 20 Dam was in 1975.

It found no contaminants, but the pH level was 5.6, or acidic, which is at the level trout find intolerable.

The department's test in December found the pH was 7.7, or neutral.

In 2008, speckled trout in the lake started dying off, which the province said was a result of high temperatures.

Amina Stoddart, a civil and resource engineering professor at Dalhousie University, said Health Canada guidelines say no level of E. coli or coliforms can be found in a drinking water source, but there are acceptable levels in a recreational body of water.

Neither E. coli nor total coliform are listed among Canadian environmental quality guidelines for fish and not all E. coli is a problem for people, she said.

E. coli is considered an indicator bacteria that can reveal other problems with water quality, Stoddart said.

"There's a small portion that are pathogenic or could cause gastrointestinal illness, but it's an indication that that fecal contamination is there, which then increases the risk of getting gastrointestinal illnesses if you are swimming there and potentially ingesting the water," she said.

E. coli and coliform can occur naturally in surface water and the amounts can vary greatly from one location to another in the same body of water, or at different times of the day in the same location, Stoddart said.

"I wouldn't necessarily be concerned with a one-day higher level, but if you came back the next week and the next week and they were constantly high, then that would probably to me indicate OK, maybe there's a chronic issue with this lake."



Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at [email protected].

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