2018-07-11

Test results show high bacteria levels in Lunenburg Harbour

by Charles Mandel

Bacteria conditions at both the Broad Street Boat Launch and the Zwicker Wharf in Lunenburg exceed Health Canada "secondary contact" guidelines.

This means that water contact through activities such as rowing, sailing, or fishing pose a risk to human health due to the possible presence of "pathogenic bacteria, viruses or protozoa," according to Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation.

Coastal Action warned that "individuals should take precautions" and undertake activities such as rowing in the impacted areas at their own risk.

The Town of Lunenburg and Coastal action posted the first results on July 4 from the second season of the town's voluntary harbour water quality monitoring program.

According to Coastal Action, if bacteria levels exceed Health Canada's secondary contact guideline, it means contact with the water could lead to potential illnesses such as gastroenteritis; skin, ear and eye infections; respiratory infections, and hepatitis. among other things.

"Children, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk of infection and should exercise greater caution when choosing locations for water-based recreation," Coastal Action noted in its brief.

The non-profit also cautioned that the weekly bacteria conditions at Fisherman's Wharf must be interpreted with caution, with an understanding that the sewage treatment plant outfall is located directly under that particular wharf.

The sewage treatment plant is required to meet a specific bacteria guideline enforced by the province of Nova Scotia. This guideline is set much higher than the Health Canada Guidelines for Recreational Water Quality.

As such, Coastal Action's brief said, this site should be expected to display higher bacteria conditions than the recreational sites at Zwicker Wharf and the Broad Street Boat Launch and will likely exceed Health Canada's secondary contact guideline on many occasions.

"We know there is more work to be done to improve the quality of the Harbour and water treatment, and we are committed to expanded monitoring, testing, and sharing of the results," Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey said in a statement accompanying the test results.

"In addition to improving public education and engagement, we are working with our federal and provincial counterparts to find solutions, as we all share this responsibility."

Coastal Action is monitoring fecal bacteria at three locations on the Lunenburg waterfront on a weekly basis from June to October.

Even while the town posted the results it also announced an engineering study that will take place over the summer. The study will review Lunenburg's entire wastewater system and recommend potential upgrades.

CBCL Ltd. Consulting Engineers will begin the study in July. CBCL will submit their report in fall 2018 for town council review.

The engineers intend to examine the town's wastewater treatment and collection system, focusing on recommendations to further enhance treatment outcomes; reduce sewer overflows during rain events; and reduce odours in the collection system during warm weather periods.

Advancements in treatment technologies will also be examined to determine if upgrades would be helpful, and if so, what the cost estimates would entail.

"The Town of Lunenburg is investing in learning and improving," said Bailey. "With the award of this contract, we have access to technical experts; engineers who are leaders in wastewater treatment technology and design. We are confident that they will identify the opportunities and costs to enhance service levels."

Lunenburg currently has a $1.1 million odour reduction "Biofilter" initiative under construction, designed by CBCL and being built by Mid Valley Construction, with funding assistance from the federal and provincial governments.

Work on this project is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. The Biofilter will treat air inside the main treatment plant and the aeration building

The 2018 program of Lunenburg Harbour water monitoring is being independently administrated by Coastal Action, a recognized Lunenburg-based environmental non-profit. Results will be posted on a weekly basis commencing July 4 on the Town's website (www.explorelunenburg.ca) and social media pages.

The weekly sampling occurs on the same day at the same time each week to ensure that the bacteria conditions are being measured under a variety of tidal, hydrological, and seasonal conditions.

"The monitoring program that Coastal Action has designed for Lunenburg Harbour will provide a sound understanding of the bacterial conditions throughout the Harbour and how various environmental factors play a role in the movement and persistence of fecal bacteria contamination," said Brooke Nodding, Executive Director, Coastal Action.

"With this information we can work together as a community to reduce the various sources of bacteria entering the harbour."

The 2018 weekly collection sites are different from 2017. This year, the focus is collecting at the shoreline at waterfront sites in the exact locations where recreational contact is likely to take place (i.e., boat ramps and floating docks).

The town's harbour has been the site of controversy for some time now.

Lunenburg boat tour operator Bill Flower has maintained for some time now that the Lunenburg Harbour is heavily polluted with sewage run-off and is in serious need of rehabilitation.

In June, an assault charge against Flower was dropped after he agreed to a peace bond and a letter of apology. Flower was accused of smearing Bailey with sludge from the town's harbour.

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