Act now to ensure healthy lakes, says coalition chair

By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Haliburton property owners collective realized early on that a proactive approach is best to prevent lake health issues.
Paul MacInnes, the chairperson of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Associations, spoke to Highlands East council during its regular meeting March 14.
The coalition is comprised of 50 lake associations on more than 100 lakes and represents as many as 17,000 properties with the goal to protect and enhance Haliburton Highlands’ bodies of water.
MacInnes said he met with two of the top lake health experts, Dr. Norman Yan and Dr. Andrew Paterson, in 2009. He wanted to know how to determine there’s a problem regarding a lake’s health. And MacInnes said he wanted some idea as to what the coalition’s main priority should be.
“They both told me exactly the same thing,” he said. “You’ve got to test your lakes. But, if you wait until you know you’ve got a problem, it’s too late.
“You’ve got to act now to prevent problems. If you wait until you’ve got a problem, there’s very little you can do about it.”
The two biggest issues to focus on are septic health and the protection of natural shorelines. He said septic systems are the greatest polluter of lakes and natural shorelines can prevent pollution.
The coalition has undertaken an exhaustive public education campaign to apprise lakeside property owners the importance of ensuring optimal septic system performance.
“We need septic reinspection,” MacInnes said. “As you know, we have it in all four municipalities.”
However, Haliburton County’s reinspection program lacks Level 4 inspection requirements.
Rainfall in Haliburton County contains four to 10 times more phosphorous than the lake water, he said. That’s the leading pollutant to local lakes. Intercepting as much of the runoff is critical. Natural shorelines help minimize runoff making it into lakes.
Natural shorelines filter out 50 per cent of pollutants as opposed to 15 per cent of pollutants filtered by degraded shorelines. And at least 75 per cent of the shoreline must be natural for optimal filtration.
“So natural shorelines, for a whole lot of reasons, are very important,” MacInnes said.
He said, on average, less than half of Haliburton County’s shoreline is natural. Less than 10 per cent of local lakes met the 75 per cent natural shoreline criteria for lake health.
“So we have work to do,” he said.
Much has been done in the way of educating waterfront property owners. But that falls short, he said.
“We can’t get to everybody with education,” MacInnes said. “A lot of them are brand new (owners). A lot of them hire a contracting company to come up and strip their shoreline before they’ve even seen the cottage in real life.”
Healthy lakes are critical to the economy, lifestyle, and health. And, he said, the lakes are suffering.
“They’ve already gone down hill and they will continue and it will get worse,” he said.
It took five years to get a septic reinspection program off the ground. And it took six years to gain ground on shoreline preservation. Discussion on such a bylaw may be nearly done.
“And climate change will not allow us that kind of luxury anymore,” he said.