Water. We drink it, we bathe in it, we swim in it, cook with it and ultimately, can’t live without it.
Do we ever really think about it?
Part of the role of the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association is to help you do just that.
In our region, we are blessed with some of the most accessible, fresh water lakes in the world.
In addition to Lake of the Woods there are also numerous small lakes within our region where cottagers have made their homes and where anyone can enjoy fishing, hiking or just exploring the great outdoors.
All these lakes and rivers provide important social, recreational, environmental, and economic health benefits, as well as providing drinking water to several communities in the region.
All About Algae
There are several thousand different types of algae living in our waterways and they are an important link in the aquatic food chain. They convert nutrients to organic matter, providing food for animals like plankton and fish, and they help oxygenate the water.
While critical to our aquatic life, excessive growth of algae caused by high concentrations of phosphorous (phosphates) can shift the natural balance by acting like a fertilizer and cause an algal bloom.
An algal bloom can:
- Colour a water body green, brown or yellow
- Affect the taste and smell of fresh water
- Fresh blooms might smell like newly mown grass
- Older blooms smell like rotting garbage
- Large blooms often occur during late summer and early fall
Some algae species such as Blue-Green algae, can be toxic to humans and animals and will cover the water with a fluorescent paint-like scum.
If you suspect a toxic bloom, it is best to be cautious and avoid using the water. This includes doing your best to keep your pets out of the lake! It’s not safe for them either and can cause serious illness and death.
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Pollution and Nutrients
What is Phosphorous and Why Does It Affect Water Quality?
Phosphorous and nitrogen are the most important nutrients influencing algal biomass in water. Phosphorous stimulates the growth of aquatic plants and algae and that in turn feeds aquatic animals.
Remember: Algae in itself is not a bad thing. In fact it’s one of the most important links in the food chain for healthy lakes and aquatic life.
Only high levels of phosphorous are toxic to humans and animals.
Sources of phosphorous and nitrogen in water include:
- Drainage from Bogs
- Pet and Livestock Feces
- Leaching and Weathering of Rock
- Soil Erosion
- Human sewage
- Greywater run-off
- Some Cleaning Products
- Lawn/Garden/Agricultural Fertilizers
- Industrial Effluent
How Nutrients Affect the Aquatic System + +
Eutrophication is a natural process that can age a lake, which may be accelerated through nutrient enrichment from human activity (sewage, animal waste, fertilizers). Eutrophic lakes are subject to algal blooms and bottom waters deficient of oxygen. They also commonly lack fish species like trout which require cold, well-oxygenated waters.
When eutrophication is accelerated, the following equations are the outcome:
Sunlight + too many nutrients = excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae and large fluctuations in dissolved oxygen concentrations (oxygen is produced by plants and animals by day as photosynthesis and reduced at night as plants breathe).
Excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae = large amounts of organic material settling to the bottom of a body of water (the decomposition of this organic material depletes oxygen in the water.)
Depletion of oxygen in the water = stress and sometimes death of fish and other animals + the release of additional phosphorous from bottom sediments (which makes the problem worse by stimulating plant growth).
What is Being Done to Decrease Excessive Nutrient Loading?
Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association is a partner with several international groups including the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Part of their combined goal is to research, share information and monitor the Lake of the Woods watershed.
In addition, the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association has many members who are active participants in the Lake Partner Program through the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. For more information contact: Ontario Lake Partner Program.
Please note: The information provided within our website should be considered only a brief overview of required sewage waste systems. For all specific questions and detailed information prior to making any alterations to existing or malfunctioning systems please contact the Northwestern Health Unit in Kenora or a certified contractor.
Learn More about the permitted and commonly used types of septic systems in the Province of Ontario.
Class 4 Rural Septic Systems
There are 5 types of rural waste systems allowed in the province of Ontario.
- CLASS 1 — Privies (portable, pail and vault),
- CLASS 2 – Greywater systems
- CLASS 3 – Cesspools
- CLASS 4 – Septic systems
- CLASS 5 – Holding tank systems
The most common in our area is Class 4; Septic Systems.
Before beginning construction, either new or upgrade, it is very important to have a certified contractor and inspector review your plans to ensure your system is suitable for your requirements based on:
- flow volumes from cottage
- space on your property
- depth to bedrock
- proximity to surface/groundwater
How does your septic system work and what are its parts?
Here’s the short answer:
Today’s septic system is designed with two parts; a dual chamber septic tank and a leaching bed (septic field). In the first compartment of the septic tank heavy solids settle and lighter materials (fats, oils) float up as scum. Baffles and screens are built in to keep scum from escaping. Scum is then removed when tank is pumped out by a reputable contractor, and should be done every 3 – 5 years to maintain a healthy system.
In the second tank compartment, finer particles settle to the bottom and organic materials will break down. Note that as of Jan. 2007, effluent filters (where organic matter is trapped and decomposes on screen) became mandatory.
The septic field is made of drain pipes, surrounded by stone and either unsaturated native soil or imported sand. Effluent flows to the bed by gravity or pump depending on its location in relation to the tank. Liquid then seeps in a controlled manner into the ground where bacteria and other organisms process wastewater further.
What could be underground?
As with just about anything these days, septic systems have changed dramatically over the years, better protecting our environment by making them more effective and efficient. Older septic tank systems might be constructed of steel, cinderblock or concrete, while today’s tanks are prefab or plastic. Another change since the 1970’s is that tanks now have two compartments, whereas old tanks may have had only one.
Old leaching beds were made of clay tiles, asbestos, or non-corrode pipes and now they are typically plastic. The spacing between pipes used to be 3 feet and the current requirements state 5.25 feet apart.
Old parts don’t necessarily mean malfunction, but your system may not be working at today’s standards due to its age or changing demands. For this reason, a septic inspection is often recommended.
Septic Systems and Your Health
If your system is not working correctly, either due to age or increased demand, contaminants from wastewater can reach your drinking supply or your lake. Although septic systems work hard to remove most contaminants, they can still enter the groundwater table and cause health or environmental problems. The location of a septic system is critical and legislated distances should be respected between septic, home and water to have healthy system.
Why Should I Maintain my Septic System?
In addition to the fact that a well maintained septic system should last many years, it is ultimately your responsibility as a property owner. You’ll save time, money and worries in replacing a failed system.
A poorly maintained system or one that is not suitable (too small after the renovations) for your daily use requirements can be a source of unwanted nutrients leaching down into the lake or your drinking water supply. In addition to the health concerns to you and your family, this can contribute to algal blooms, weed growth and ultimately damage to the sensitive aquatic balance.
In Ontario the Ontario Building Code governs septic systems. To inspect, install, repair, upgrade or replace a system you must contact the Northwestern Health Unit in Kenora, Ontario.
You should also be aware that any contractors hired to work on your system; including designers and installers as well as anyone pumping or cleaning tanks must have a Building Code Identification Number (BCIN).
For more detailed information, please view the sewage permit process backgrounder and guide
Northwestern Health Unit in Kenora, Ontario
Signs of a Failing Septic System
- Unusually green or spongy grass above leaching field
- Offensive odours, after a rain in particular
- Slow-draining sinks and toilets
- Sludge back-up into house
- Sewage pooling above field
Items that should never, ever, EVER go into your septic system
- Anti-bacterial cleansers or soaps
- Fats, oils, grease
- Gasoline or anti-freeze
- Varnishes, paints or solvents
- Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
- Bleach or pesticides
- Nail polish remover
- Cat litter
- Coffee grounds, egg shells
- Cigarette butts
- Sanitary napkins, tampons, facial tissue, paper towels
You’d be surprised…
Caring for Septic Systems with Rob Davis
Rob Davis, from EcoEthic, is one of our most popular speakers and seminar presenters from past LOWDSA Annual General Meetings. In this funny and informative video he gives us the “straight poop” on caring for Septic Systems:Caring for Septic Systems with Rob Davis
We Canadians love our water. We Canadians are also one of the largest consumers of water in the world, partly because we are lucky enough to have such an abundance of it.
In fact, many of us live in the Lake of the Woods region simply because of the water. And it’s hard to think about conservation of this precious resource when we can see it all around us. Fresh, clean water is something we take for granted, but we need to think about how we can preserve it for future generations. Water conservation can be practiced by everyone, everywhere.
Here are some startling facts:
Canadians use an average of 326 litres per day per person. That’s 118,889 litres per year!
- 33% is used to flush toilets
- 16% in showering and baths
- 23% in laundry
- 28% for drinking, cooking, watering lawns and gardens
- One drip/second from a leaky faucet wastes 10,000 litres/year
- Overloading your septic system from washers, dishwashers, running taps can contaminates our lakes with poorly treated or untreated water.
Fresh, clean water is something we take for granted. Let’s think about how we can preserve it for future generations. Water conservation can be practiced by everyone, everywhere.