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:
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.
- David Wolf, Will Georgic, H. Allen Klaiber. Reeling in the damages: Harmful algal blooms’ impact on Lake Erie’s recreational fishing industry. Journal of Environmental Management, 2017; 199: 148 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.031
- David Wolf, H. Allen Klaiber. Bloom and bust: Toxic algae’s impact on nearby property values. Ecological Economics, 2017; 135: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.12.007
See these web pages:
Some of the map products will be useful for monitoring of the Sylvan Lake watershed, however the resolution is too low to monitor changes at the community or individual property scale.
Alberta Environment and Parks organized this year’s forum at Lake Isle west of Edmonton.
Several forum documents and presentations are filed in this online SLWSS folder.
The SLWSS did not attend this year’s forum as the need for input from community stewardship groups has declined. We did provide this report on our 2016 activities and projects:
SLWSS REPORT FOR THE ALBERTA RECREATIONAL LAKES (ARL) FORUM 2017
State of the Watershed 2016
Our comprehensive report “The Sylvan Lake Watershed-Second Edition” documented changes in the key indicators that affect the state of the watershed. Data on Environmental, Social and Economic Cumulative Effects variables were compiled for time periods of one or more decades and presented a picture of a relatively stable environment.
Water Quality Monitoring 2016
Preliminary analytical data indicate that in a year with little spring runoff the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient concentrations have been lower than the long-term average. The lake water clarity remained very high with Secchi disk depth measurements typically greater than 5 metres. Photo albums of the lake sampling expeditions were posted on our SLWSS News blog site.
Nature Alberta’s Living by Water Program
The Society has promoted the Nature Alberta Living by Water program for several years and enabled more than 80 property owners to benefit from Home Assessments. Response to L by W has declined and we awarded a SLWSS yard sign to just a single property owner in 2016.
Government Affairs in 2016
The Society presented a statement on the potential impact of the West Area structure plan at a public hearing of the Town of Sylvan Lake with regard to transport of silt from construction sites through Marina Bay into Sylvan Lake in Golf Course Creek runoff. We recorded several cases of increased turbidity in stormwater runoff.
We assisted a University of Calgary geophysics survey team led by Profs. Lauer and Bentley to collect groundwater aquifer data at the west end of Sylvan Lake in October.
Quiet Enjoyment Initiative
The QEI subcommittee chaired by Kent Lyle continued its efforts to have local municipal bylaws adopted to control the sources of noise on the lake. An education and boat launch site signage project was developed at the request of the SLMC. Subsequent support by the municipal members of the SLMC was mixed and disappointing to the hard-working sub-committee. The QEI message resonated with and received considerable major and local media interest in its efforts to promote respect for others. An expanded QEI subcommittee report is posted here.
Our ceramic tile for the new lighthouse is mounted on the structure with inscription: “Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society: Protecting the lake’s natural assets and values through vigilance and science”.
The Sylvan Lake shoreline has been surveyed twice using airborne video cameras to record the impairment of the riparian zone by property owners, once in 2002 for the Alberta Conservation Association and again in 2007 by Alberta SRD together with Fisheries and Oceans. These are valuable records of the cumulative effects of human impact on the natural values that otherwise would be provided by the shoreline environment to protect the lake.
This graphic summarizes the 2002 findings:
The shoreline sections occupied by the Town of Sylvan Lake and Summer Villages or equivalent county communities are typically Moderately or Highly impaired. The SLWSS has recruited property owners along those sections of shoreline to participate in the Living by Water program of Nature Alberta. Regrettably, less than 20% of shoreline occupants have volunteered to have property assessments completed.
These three helicopter survey files should playback on a computer or phone. If that doesn’t work, then download the files and play them locally:
Heli Clip #1. File size 96 MB:
From Jarvis Bay, NW along the north shore to Sunbreaker Cove boat launch ramp.
Heli Clip #2. File size 95 MB:
From Sunbreaker Cove counterclockwise to the Boy Scout camp.
Heli Clip #3. File size 87 MB:
From the Boy Scout camp, SE to the Town of Sylvan Lake beach and Jarvis Bay.
The Atlas, first published as a printed report in 1990, has been digitized and is available here.
Sylvan Lake is part of the South Saskatchewan Region.
Maps and data for some lakes monitored by Alberta Environment and Parks may be found here.
Also refer to the Respect Our Lakes web page
and the AEP Lake Information page.
Be sure to visit the Central Alberta Recreational Lakes Initiative website for additional information, data and references.
This is an interim report on the results of Sylvan Lake water quality sampling between May and September 2016. Previous posts have illustrated the joint SLWSS-ALMS project in action on the high seas. The teamwork of ALMS lake technician Breda Muldoon, able crew members from the SLWSS, and boat captain Ed Thiessen of Norglenwold allowed us to complete three of the planned five sampling cruises. Two were abandoned because of unsafe weather conditions.
The official LakeWatch report on the Sylvan Lake 2016 campaign will be issued by the Alberta Lake Management Society in mid-2017 according to the standards and schedule of that program.
Meanwhile, some of the raw data analyzed by Maxxam, the certified commercial laboratory in Edmonton, are available for inspection and preliminary interpretation. This table summarizes the constituents in Sylvan Lake water. The list includes naturally occurring cations and anions that are transported from the land into the lake over time in groundwater, precipitation and atmospheric fallout. In addition, the indicator nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are measured to determine the eutrophic condition of the lake.
We were surprised to discover that the Total Phosphorus (TP) concentrations fell at the low end of the historical range on this histogram of data from three decades of water quality analyses:
Those TP values in the range 0.010 to 0.015 milligrams per litre (that is, ten to fifteen parts per billion) were well below the eutrophic limit threshold guideline for Sylvan Lake of 0.035 mg/L, or 35 ppb. Note that the historic TP median concentration has been about0.021 milligrams per litre, or 21 ppb. That is the source concentration of phytoplankton fertilizer feed.
We use TP as an indicator or quick index to estimate the potential for phytoplankton growth and appearance of algal blooms that are common at other nutrient-rich Alberta lakes like Pigeon and Pine lakes.
The 2016 data suggested that the food chain in the lake might be adversely affected by too little nutrient content. If single-celled phytoplankton don’t grow, and produce food for zooplankton and the higher members of the food chain then aquatic health of the fish stock can become jeopardized by being placed on a low-calorie diet.
We observed that directly with the simple Secchi disk test for water clarity. Through the sampling period, the disk typically remained visible down to a depth of 5 metres, indicating that there was not much light-scattering suspended material in the water column.
Part of the explanation for the depleted nutrient concentration in 2016 undoubtedly was the absence of significant snowmelt runoff until mid-May. Generally initial runoff carries high concentrations of nutrients into the lake. After plants start growing on the land those nutrients are captured and retained and become less available to reach the lake. Here is the precipitation history for the January-September period using Alberta Agriculture data from the Hespero weather station west of the watershed.
Intermittent soil-saturating precipitation of >10 mm/day (the tiny blue spikes) tends to activate surface flow into tributaries and creeks that discharge into the lake. The red cumulative precipitation line did not cross the long-term average until September, after which nutrient concentrations do not contribute to concerns about excess cosmetic algal growth.
A customized addition to the 2016 campaign was the collection of water samples from within the top 1 metre and the bottom 1 metre of the lake at its deepest sample station. The purpose was to detect any elevated TP concentration above the sediment from decay of nutrient-rich material previously settled out of the water column. Previous studies of Sylvan Lake have demonstrated that enriched layer. However, our chemical analyses in combination with the relatively constant instrumental measurements with depth of conductivity, temperature and dissolved oxygen suggested that the chance of substantial nutrient mixing was low through the open water period of 2016. That conclusion assumes that conditions at other deep locations above the lake sediment are no worse that what we observed at the reference station.