Algal Blooms Reduce Property Values

The following case history for Lake Erie shows how algal blooms have reduced real estate values and recreation uses. So keep your plant nutrients on shore on your own private property. We don’t need Blue/Green algae in Sylvan Lake:

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In a new study, researchers at The Ohio State University estimate algal blooms at two Ohio lakes cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value over six years.

Meanwhile, a related study suggests that algae is driving anglers away from Lake Erie, causing fishing license sales to drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate level of health risk. Based on those numbers, a computer model projects that a severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures by anglers.

Those are the main findings from the first two studies ever to put a precise dollar value on algae impact, both on Lake Erie and two recreational lakes in Ohio. One study appears in the journal Ecological Economics, and the other in the Journal of Environmental Management.

“Our biggest takeaway is that efforts to prevent and mitigate algal blooms have real, tangible benefits for Ohioans, including property values,” said Allen Klaiber, associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

In the first study, he and doctoral student David Wolf found that property values near two algae-infested lakes in the state’s interior fell $152 million from 2009 to 2015. Sale prices for homes within one third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent during that time, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent.

A number of additional factors that influence property values were included in the analysis to ensure that the observed losses in property values were directly attributable to changes in water quality. For example, seasonal trends in the housing market, differences in structural characteristics across homes, and spatially varying provision of public services such as school quality were all controlled for in the analysis.

Most of the losses were felt by residents around Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus. There, residents collectively lost $101 million in home sales over six years. Grand Lake St. Marys in northwest Ohio felt a smaller but still significant loss of $51 million.

Turning to Lake Erie, the researchers teamed with doctoral student Will Georgic to examine state revenue from sport fishing, which contributes to a $1.7 billion tourism industry. They found that once algae levels reach a “moderate” threshold as described by the World Health Organization (WHO), fishing license sales within 12 miles of Lake Erie dropped 10 to 13 percent.

The researchers further simulated what would happen if a severe algal bloom — similar in extent to the one experienced in 2011 which covered 45 percent of the lake — struck Lake Erie today. In that case, the researchers projected that as many as 3,600 fewer recreational fishing licenses would be sold, and as much as $5.6 million in associated fishing expenditure would be lost in just one summer.

The researchers hope their work will give policymakers the information they need to address algae prevention and cleanup. For instance, the state of Ohio has already invested $26 million to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys, but that amount equals only a little more than half of the lost property value there.

The two studies are part of an ongoing project to gauge not only the costs and benefits of fighting algae, but also the public’s algae tolerance: how much is too much, before people decide to buy homes or go fishing elsewhere?

As it turns out, people have a pretty low tolerance for algae. They devalued a lake property the moment the Ohio EPA announced that the water was unsafe to drink — the lowest warning level by WHO standards — even though the lakes included in the study were recreational and weren’t used for drinking water. They began fishing elsewhere after the warning level rose to “moderate” risk for incidental ingestion of the water. In both cases, higher algae levels didn’t seem to matter.

Wolf summed it up this way: “What seemed to matter most for property value was simply whether the algae levels were perceptible at all, not how bad they got after they became perceptible.”

“People make decisions based on their perceptions, and they get their strongest perception of algae at the beginning, when they first see news stories about the water being unsafe to drink,” Klaiber said. “And that poses a real challenge, because once a lake has an algae problem, it’s really difficult to clean it up enough to make the algae imperceptible again. That’s why we think the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ in regards to state policies would come from preventing algae levels from becoming perceptible in the first place.”

For fishing, aesthetics definitely plays a role. At the “moderate” algae level, water becomes noticeably cloudy. And then there’s the smell.

“People say it smells like sewage or rotten eggs,” Wolf said. “You can’t miss it.”

“These are things that would not contribute positively to the aesthetics of your walleye trip,” Klaiber added.

Ohio is one of the first states to compile this kind of data, because the Ohio EPA set up a special working group in 2008 to take precise measures of algal levels in Lake Erie and all major inland lakes.

Further, Ohio is a “public disclosure” state, meaning that financial information for all property transfers and sales are publicly available. Most Ohio county auditors posts the data on their websites, making it easy for anyone to access.

Klaiber and Wolf stressed that they didn’t collect any information about who owned the houses they studied — just the property values, sale or transfer prices for properties that changed hands during the study period, and the distance from those properties to the affected lakes.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Pam Frost Gorder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal References:

  1. David Wolf, Will Georgic, H. Allen Klaiber. Reeling in the damages: Harmful algal blooms’ impact on Lake Erie’s recreational fishing industryJournal of Environmental Management, 2017; 199: 148 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.031
  2. David Wolf, H. Allen Klaiber. Bloom and bust: Toxic algae’s impact on nearby property valuesEcological Economics, 2017; 135: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.12.007

SW-Julie O-Hann


Flipside Kids Learn About Water Quality

This Sylvan Lake News story was published in the April 20 edition:

Children involved in the drop-in programs at the Flipside Youth Centre were taught some things about that big body of water at the north end of town, on April 13.

President Graeme Strathdee and Director-at-Large Susan Samson of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society gave an interactive presentation on the science surrounding the waters of Sylvan Lake.

Both representatives provided various examples of what affects water quality in the lake, as well aswhat procedures are used to test the quality of that water, such as pH testing.

“They talked to kids on how they do testing for farm runoff, and what comes out of rainwater thatends up in the lake,” said Deshon Lennard an FCC Youth Services Coordinator with the Town ofSylvan Lake.

Lennard said that in their presentation, Strathdee and Samson explained all the factors that affectthe lake, from tourist activity to bacteria from garbage. Their presentation also had a hands-onaspect, with children carrying out experiments that tested tap water quality.

“The kids got to do a scaled down version of the larger activities, with one simulating the types ofwater in the lake with cups,” said Lennard. “Each cup represented geographic areas in the lake, andthey used food colouring to differentiate the distinct areas of the lake.”

Lennard said that last Thursday’s session was part of a larger educational segment of the youthcentre’s programming called Power-up Thursday, whereby children engage in educational activities,that “engage them in diverse areas of science and math.”

“The kids were very interested and curious,” said Lennard. “They learned something new, and tooksome pride in learning about the water in the lake, because they’re from here.”

Our Stewardship Science message was built around this slideshow of water quality sampling of Sylvan Lake and Golf Course Creek.


Can you collect a composite sample of lake water like Breda is doing? Flipside kids can.

Thanks to Sam Macdonald, new SLN reporter just arrived from NS, for the reprinted story.



Water Quality Sampling in 2016

The Society has organized another water quality sampling campaign in cooperation with the Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS) because the lake received little runoff from snow melt or early season rain. That means the main loading of the lake by nutrients carried off the land is absent. So 2016 should turn out to be a special case with atmospheric  fallout and internal sources becoming more significant for feeding phytoplankton that start the food chain in the lake.


Breda prepares to sample a column of water at one of the stations.

ALMS lake tech Breda Muldoon, a graduate of the U of S in toxicology, will lead the project for the Society. Five sampling dates are scheduled between June 12, the first day, and the end of season measurements in September. The captain and guide of his pontoon boat sampling platform is Ed Thiessen of Norglenwold.


Sample of lake-bottom water recovered for analysis


Plankton sample captured from the bottom to the top of the lake

To see a photo album of the first day’s expedition, click here. The cover photo shows the ten sampling stations distributed over the lake area, as well as the location of the deepest water point at which extra water and plankton samples are recovered together with instrumental readings of temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen at 0.5 metre intervals down to the bottom at 18 metres.





Do-It-Yourself GIS for Your Watershed

Learn how to build a Geographic Information System for your Alberta watershed by using this starter kit from the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society.

The process involves downloading free software, acquiring georeferenced data for your land and lake area, and creating maps that will help you to understand and make better decisions about your watershed.


Click on the AltaLIS web page image to expand it/

The linked slideshow and notes explain the GIS software options, where to find and download GIS data and imagery, and some of the useful mapping functions that will help you to survey your environment, answer questions, and to add value to your GIS project.

Join the Watershed Stewardship Society

Here is the text of a message recently sent to members of the Society.

Some computers and devices have not received all the electronic content correctly, so it is reproduced here. Click on all the active links to read all the news and to discover what’s been happening.

Please note that memberships may be renewed, or even acquired for the first time, by clicking on the “Be an Active Member” invitation in the right hand margin of this page.


Thank you for your past support in helping us advocate for a sustainable, healthy lake and watershed.  Our strength is in numbers.  We rely on a growing and committed membership to remain strong and effective.  Your annual membership fee of $20 supports our watershed protection projects and provides you with ‘active’ status and a vote at our 2015 Annual General Meeting in September,

Your Society has been active again this year.

  • We reported on two water quality sampling projects on the major tributaries Golf Course Creek and Northwest Creek that provide an early warning of changes to nutrients flowing into the lake and the potential for blooms of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae..
  • Members supplied boat access for the ALMS LakeWatch water quality and Invasive Species
  • We continue to recognize property owners for completing Living by Water property assessments with our distinctive “Kent Williamson” SLWSS yard sign for watershed conservation and water quality awareness.
  • The SLWSS represents Sylvan Lake at meetings of Watershed Stewardship Groups to share information on new legislation, regulations, water quality monitoring, and threats to Central Alberta’s Recreational Lakes.
  • Kent Lyle’s Quiet Enjoyment Initiative team has pioneered a project that is focused on community standards for noise emissions on Sylvan Lake in summer and winter seasons.
  • Our watershed blog site is the source of all important news on Sylvan Lake and our watershed.
  • We assist the Alberta Geological Survey and Alberta Agriculture to understand our watershed setting and we provide technical information on groundwater and nutrient transport from the land into the lake.
  • We represent you as a non-voting member of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee and contribute input to municipal developments in the watershed.

To renew your membership, or become a new active member and a Watershed Stewardship Society supporter, please mail your cheque for $20.00 to:

Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society, Box 9012, Sylvan Lake, Alberta T4S 1S6

You may prefer to use our new electronic payment option. Please click on this Be an Active Member “Buy Now” PayPal button in the right hand margin to reach our secure SLWSS-PayPal web page where you may renew your membership using a credit card or your own PayPal account. PayPal will notify us about your transaction.    

 Click here to read the SLWSS 2014 Annual Report


Annual Meeting 2014

President Graeme Strathdee presented the following annual report on SLWSS projects and activities during the last year:

Monitoring Sylvan Lake Tributaries

The Golf Course Creek Project funded by the Land Stewardship Centre, and the Northwest Creek Project co-funded by the SLWSS and the member municipalities of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee have collected data on the flow and composition of runoff from the two most important catchments and tributaries. The project reports show that the addition of Phosphorus (as TP) into the lake 2014 has been less than 3% of the ASWQG value of 0.035 mg/litre. 

Logistics Support for ALMS LakeWatch 2014 and Invasive Species Sampling Campaigns

LakeWatch sampled Sylvan Lake five times during the open water season. The results will be published as part of the on-going series of reports on Sylvan Lake. Instrumental data are collected and combined with the water quality analyses of composite samples of the lake. Members Bob Samson and Jim Campbell are thanked for transporting ALMS technician Jackson Woren. In addition, ALMS initiated Invasive Species monitoring at Sylvan Lake in 2014. Director Devon Shouldice provided the boat for collection and classification of near-shore plants sampled by ALMS technician Alyssa Cloutier. 

Living by Water Project 2014

Director Steven Johnson recruited 9 new participants for the Home Assessment program. After Year 5 we now have enrolled 81 property owners. The Nature Alberta team worked with owners on initial and follow-up check-ups.  All participants receive the SLWSS ‘Kent Williamson’ yard sign that recognizes their commitment to a healthy watershed. The SLWSS donated $1000 to support the Nature Alberta team’s Living by Water assessments at Sylvan Lake.  The 2014 report will be posted on our SLWSS News website.

Sylvan Lake Management Committee

The SLWSS represented members’ interests on the Sylvan Lake Management Committee as non-voting observer and as expert contributors to a municipal councillors’ workshop. The Cumulative Effects Management System project has effectively been suspended in 2014.

Stewardship at Sylvan Lake Presentation

The president delivered a talk with this title to Rotary Clubs in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake. Each was followed by an enthusiastic discussion period as many in Central Alberta have ties to the lake.

Cumulative Effects Management System (CEMS) Project

Lack of both project management and expert staff resources limited progress on this joint ESRD-SLMC project since our last SLWSS AGM. The reorganization of ESRD required a review of the direction and scope of the CEMS project and a search for an appropriate project leader. Consequently there is no SLWSS action to report.

The SLWSS is the Authority on the Watershed

Two SLWSS websites and contain news, information and intelligence on all aspects of and threats to the watershed environment the natural capital, and to the surrounding community. Monitoring and reporting on the water balance and water quality are our lake priorities. A redesign of the gateway site is underway by Chad Williamson.

The SLWSS Intervened on the CFR Chemicals Expansion in Red Deer County

The SLWSS commented in a letter to Red Deer County on the risks to the watershed that are created by the CFR Chemicals site on Highway 11 and its chemical storage and transfer and rail and road transport of materials.

Quiet Enjoyment Initiative

The QEI subcommittee chaired by Kent Lyle presented its findings and recommendations to the Sylvan Lake Management Committee in May. A motion was passed by the SLMC to develop a common Municipal Bylaw to help mitigate noise pollution on and near Sylvan Lake from engines and music systems, summer and winter, before the boats and other conveyancing vehicles are launched or driven on to the lake.

Sylvan Lake Nutrient Balance

On the technology front, several computer models are being evaluated as tools for consolidation and analysis of tributary flows and lake composition in cooperation with the limnologist assigned to Sylvan Lake.

WillyFest 2014

The fourth annual WW event was organized by the Williamson family and close friends at Blissful Beach on August 16. Participants were once again generous in their contribution of funds for use in our programs.

Our Friends

We acknowledge the assistance of the many friends of Sylvan Lake who continue to provide generous financial support to the SLWSS and to renew membership in the Society.

Representation at Stewardship Events

We participated in conferences and meetings of the Central Alberta Recreational Lakes organization, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, and other significant events that have value for the SLWSS.

The SLWSS Management Team

Your organization is directed, managed and administered by a dedicated team that fits volunteer duties into busy schedules. The SLWSS maintains its financial health by the member subscriptions and contributions from benefactors who believe in the cause of protecting Sylvan Lake.