Managing your well in a Muskoka Drought

dug_wellIn all areas, including Muskoka, groundwater levels in wells will vary over time.  While we are not experiencing an official drought yet, we are definitely in a “dry spell” and more and more people are starting to have issues with water levels and the quality of water in their wells. Water conservation and pump adjustments can help manage your water well during drought.

Droughts can be stressful for the many Muskoka residents who rely on private wells for their water supply. As wells tap groundwater aquifers that cannot easily be seen or monitored the very invisible nature of groundwater leads to an uneasy feeling among home and cottage owners relying on wells. There is an almost constant fear that their water supply could dry up without warning. 

The Normal Cycle of Groundwater Levels

The water level in a groundwater well will fluctuate naturally during the year. Groundwater levels tend to be highest during March and April in response to winter snowmelt and spring rainfall. The movement of rain and snowmelt into groundwater is known as recharge.

Groundwater levels usually begin to fall in May and continue to decline during the summer. Groundwater recharge is limited during late spring and summer because trees and other plants use the available water to grow. Natural groundwater levels usually reach their lowest point in late September or October. In late fall, after trees and plants have stopped growing and before snow begins to fall, groundwater levels may rise in response to rainfall and recharge. Groundwater recharge persists through the fall until cold temperatures produce snowfall and frozen soil that limit the ability of water to infiltrate into the ground. Groundwater levels during winter may be stable or fall slightly until spring snowmelt and rainstorms start the annual cycle again. Given this natural cycle of groundwater, most problems with wells tend to occur in late summer or early fall when groundwater levels naturally reach their lowest levels.

How Can I Conserve Water?

Water conservation measures become critical during times of drought. If you rely on a private well, you should conserve water as mush as possible always and especially as soon as drought conditions occur.

You can significantly reduce the water use within your cottage or home by making changes in habits and by installing water-saving devices. Examples might include flushing the toilet less often, taking shorter showers, only washing full loads of dishes or laundry, not rinsing dishes before the dishwasher unless especially dirty, not rinsing anything under running water but filling a sink or basin to rinse, brushing teeth with a glass of water and not a running tap, collecting water from roof gutters into rain barrels for outside use. Other good things to implement are household bans on the nonessential use of water such as car washing and lawn watering.  

What Can I Do If My Well Runs Dry?

There are a number of reasons why a well may quit producing water. Water quality problems like iron bacteria and sediment may clog the well and severely restrict water flow and the recovery rate of the well. This becomes more noticeable in dry seasons when there is less ground water available. Shocking or cleaning your well may increase the flow of water however it will not bring back water to a dry well unless the water table comes back up.

Under persistent dry weather conditions, the water level in your well may drop below the submersible pump or intake foot valve, causing a loss of water. In some cases, the water level may only temporarily drop below the pump/intake when water is being frequently drawn from the well during showers or laundry. Under these conditions, you may be able to continue using the well by initiating emergency water conservation measures and using water only for essential purposes.

If the water level permanently drops below the submersible pump or intake, it may be possible to lower the pump/intake within the existing well. In most cases this will only provide a short-term solution to the problem. More permanent solutions require either deepening the existing well or drilling a new well. Be aware that deepening an existing well may not increase the well yield and could produce water of different water quality characteristics. You should consult with a local well driller  to determine the best solution for your situation.

Proper management of private wells during droughts will become more important as competition for water in Muskoka increases.

Can I have water delivered to my well?

The simple answer is of course yes but the honest one is that it is not worth it. A well is a tube not a cistern. It has no bottom so if you put in several hundred gallons of water it will seep out of the bottom until it is gone or reaches the level of the water table. You will only be able to benefit from the water for a brief time before it drains away. Having water delivered to your well is not a fix and much of what you pay for will seep away.

As a Muskoka realtor I try to ensure that my buyers are aware of the water source at any potential home or cottage they want to purchase. I include a potability (safe drinking water) clause and often include a clause about the well pump and production. However, no home owner can control the water table and if you are living with a well, or plan to be, you will need to understand how it works and how to best protect your family in the occasional drought we experience here in Muskoka.

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5 Things to consider when investing in a Muskoka Property with a friend

Friendship HandshakeBuying a cottage or a rental investment property in Muskoka can be a smart financial move. As you pay down the debt, you build equity in a property that will in all likelihood appreciate in value over time.

There are the tax benefits in most cases as you can deduct your rental expenses from any income you earn, including items such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, repair and maintenance costs, and property management, all of which saves you money at tax time. The primary benefit of course is the revenue stream it will generate. However, as owning investment property requires an investment of time and effort as well as money, choosing to share that burden with a friend can make sense. This is definitely appealing but it will come will with some challenges.  Here are five things to give serious consideration to before investing in real estate with a friend.

 1. Your Mortgage Rate Will be Tied to Both Credit Reports

When applying for financing on a property purchase both you and your friend’s credit history will be used.  If one of you has bad credit it can negatively affect the mortgage terms, including the interest rate that you pay on the loan. Remember that even a minor change in interest of even 0.5% will make a big difference in the amount due every month on your mortgage and in the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

2. You Risk Your Good Credit Rating

When both you and your friend are listed on the mortgage, you are both responsible for making payments. If the mortgage falls behind for whatever reason, the lender will report both of you to the credit agencies for non-payment even if it is not you personally in default. Because both names are on the mortgage, your friend’s non-payment could end up costing you big on your credit report and significantly affect your future potential to borrow money for your personal requirements.

3. You May Have Challenges Getting Other Loans

Assuming there are no issues and you and your friend split the mortgage payment each month 50-50 with no defaults you still need to know that each of you alone is responsible for the entire mortgage payment.  To a new lender, say, for a car loan or a personal home purchase, this can have a substantial impact. They will include the whole payment amount of that mortgage in the debt-to-income ratio calculation and it may make it difficult to qualify for other loans.

4. No “Easy Button” for Moving Out

If you rent an apartment or house with a friend, it’s usually easy to walk away if the two of you no longer get along, or if you just decide to move. Not so with a mortgage. Since both of your names are on the title of the property and the mortgage, you are both responsible for making the payments. To get one of the names off the mortgage and deed, you have to sell the house on the open marker or one to another. Selling on the open market can take time and sometimes even result in a loss if the market conditions are not ideal.

It’s a good idea to have a written agreement in place that details your agreed-upon exit plan should one of you decide to move on. The agreement should also cover what happens if either of you dies. Does the survivor become the sole owner, or does he or she need to buy out the heirs of the deceased partner? What percentage of the property you each own? Will the property be sold, and if so, how will the proceeds be divided?

Another good idea for financial protection is for both parties to purchase life insurance on the mortgage in case of death.

5. Disagreement Over Responsibilities

A great friendship can be quickly tested if there are any disagreements over who is responsible for a property related undertaking.  Payment of utilities and taxes, maintenance, hiring support help when required, budgets for work required and other items that need attending to in a timely fashion are all potential sources of conflict.  To avoid this, include in your written agreement details regarding the breakdown of expenses, how repairs and maintenance will be handled (who will do the work, and how the costs will be shared), plus how deductions will be claimed (e.g., who gets to claim the mortgage interest deduction or whether you split it in some way).

The Bottom Line

Buying an investment property with a friend will have lots of benefits:

  • It should be easier to qualify for a mortgage
  • you get to share all the monthly expenses, including utilities, maintenance/repair costs and the mortgage payment.
  • you get to build equity as you pay down the loan.

This kind of purchase will also have some challenges and it is important to make a well thought-out and informed decision.  Do your homework ahead of time, and make sure you and your friend both have the income to meet the monthly expenses of the investment without relying on any potential income from it.

Most importantly, protect your friendship and avoid trouble down the road by having a written agreement.  It is a good idea to hire a lawyer to write a comprehensive agreement that details who is responsible for what, what happens if one of you wants to move on, and how the property will be handled if one of you passes away.

If you and a friend have been pondering this type of partnership I would be delighted to help you find the perfect property, call or email me today!

How to Buy a Muskoka Home While Still in Your Twenties

Karen Acton 20 somethingsI have got to give it to you the millennial generation, you are an educated, tech-savvy group and you typically knows what you want. The last few years I have been noticing that many of you “twenty-somethings” have decided that what you want is to buy your first home.

Of course, there are apps galore on just about everything out there, but swiping right isn’t going to get you into your first home – though it probably will help you locate the ones you want to see!

For a more realistic and practical approach however, these five time-tested tips may work better for you.

Are Your Ready to Commit

It has likely been said more than any other piece of home-buying advice out there… Buying a home may be the largest and most important purchase you’ll make in your entire life. You need to know you’re ready for that type of commitment. Millennials have been deemed a nomadic bunch – so, it’s important to note that most home buyers stay in their homes for at least five years – and, that’s just so they can recoup the costs of their purchase.

Buying a home also means you must be ready to get your hands dirty. Handy work like replacing smoke alarm batteries, maintaining landscaping and even changing air filters typically falls in a homeowner’s hands not to mention painting and decorating.

If you can commit to this then you just might be ready!

Understand Your Finances

When it comes to buying a home, a mortgage broker will consider every part of your financial picture. From your current income to your bills and spending habits to the savings you have for your down payment. Since a lender is going to have to verify your finances its good that you know exactly what they will find before they get there. Find out how much money you have coming in and going out and how much you will be able to devote to a monthly mortgage payment.

When you’re considering your finances and budget, also consider the fact that homeownership expenses do not end with the monthly mortgage payment. Home owners are responsible for insurance, property taxes, utilities and any money it costs to cover routine maintenance or unexpected home repairs.

Consider Credit and Savings

Your first brush with credit may have been when you were inundated with credit card offers on your first day of college classes. By now you have probably established some type of credit – and, hopefully it is good. Lenders will consider your credit score when it comes to mortgage approval. Remember – the better your credit score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered. You can improve this score by making sure you carry small or no balance on your cards and pay them on time every month.

In addition to your credit a lender need to see your savings. When you’re buying a home, you’ll need to have money available for the down payment as sufficient to cover closing costs.

Have you saved the money you’ll need when it comes time to buy?

Get Preapproved

I am sure you can see that buying a home is largely a financial process, so it only makes sense that the mortgage process may be a long one, right? So, before you start to look at possible homes it is wise to seek out several lending institutions. They will compete for your business if you have got all your affairs in order, so you can shop around and settle on the one you’d like to use.

Just like every buyer is different, so is every lender. Some may be more lenient when it comes to credit history. Some credit unions or banks if you are a current customer may offer lower rates than other lenders.

Consider all options before choosing a mortgage lender.

Work with Realtor You Trust

The ever-important last piece of the home-buying puzzle. This is one area where I would not advise following a DIY mentality. Professional real estate sales representatives have the training and know-how to lead any first-time home buyer to a home that’s right for them. A trusted Realtor will help you make up your “needs and wants” list when it comes to a home; they will help you consider your long-term goals for your new home; and, they will search for homes, show you homes, negotiate and walk you through the entire offer and closing process… right down to the point where those new home keys fall into your hands.

There will be plenty of DYI to do once you own your new home, especially when it is your first time, a guide through the process only makes good sense. Let me be your guide!

To see current listings in Muskoka click here

Getting Your Home Winter Ready in Muskoka

Eavestrough-Cleaning-Karen ActonOK, so the snow fell, the thermostat dropped, and you still have not done any winter prep around your Muskoka home or cottage. All is not lost; the weather man says that it will be gone in a day or two, so you still have time to get things done. Let this little dive into winter be a great reminder that you still have a few unfinished home maintenance tasks left to check off the list.

Here are some helpful lists I have put together for you from the many great resources on-line. Hope you find them helpful.

Windows and Doors

  1. Check the weather stripping around windows and doorframes for leaks to prevent heat loss. Replace weather stripping, if necessary.
  2. Replace all screen doors with storm doors if you have them.
  3. Replace all window screenswith storm windows if you have this type of window system.
  4. Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay and repair if required.
  5. Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.

Lawn, Garden, and Deck

  1. Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent iced-over or wind-swept branches from causing property damage or a power problem.
  2. Aerate the lawn, reseed, and apply a winterizing fertilizer to promote deep-root growth come spring.
  3. Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. Make sure the ground slopes away from the house. Add extra soil to low areas, as necessary.
  4. Clean and dry patio furniture. Cover with a heavy tarp or store inside a shed or garage to protect it from the elements.
  5. Clean soil from planters. Bring pots made of clay or other fragile materials indoors.
  6. Dig up flower bulbs, brush off soil, and label. Store bulbs in a bag or box with peat moss in a cool, dry place for spring replanting.
  7. Remove any attached hoses and store them away for the winter to prevent cracks, preserve their shapes, and prolong their life.
  8. Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
  9. Inspect decks for splintering, decay, or insect damageand treat, if needed, to prevent further deterioration over the winter. Clean leaves, dirt, and pine needles between the boards of wooden decks to thwart mold and mildew growth.
  10. Inspect outdoor lighting around the property. Good illumination will help minimize the chance of accidents on icy walkways at night.
  11. Check handrails on exterior stairs to make sure they’re well secured.

Tools and Machinery

  1. Bring all seasonal tools inside and spray them with a coating of lightweight oil to prevent rust.
  2. Weatherize your lawn mower by cleaning off mud, leaves, grass, and debris.
  3. Move your snow blower and shovels to the front of the garageor shed for easy access.
  4. Prepare the snow blower for the first snowfall by changing the oil and replacing the spark plug.
  5. Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels to make sure they’re ready for another season of work.
  6. Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand for steps, walkways, and the driveway.

Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning

  1. Inspect the firebox and flue system to ensure that they’re clean of any soot or creosote and that there aren’t any cracks or voids that could cause a fire hazard.
  2. Check fireplace for drafts. If it’s cold despite the damper being closed, the damper itself may be warped, worn, or rusted. Consider installing a Chimney Balloon into the flue to air seal the area tightly.
  3. Clean or replace the air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency and improved indoor air quality.
  4. Clean your whole house humidifier and replace the evaporator pad.
  5. Bleed valves on any hot-water radiators to increase heating efficiency by releasing air that may be trapped inside.
  6. Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  7. Remove air conditioners from windows or cover them with insulated liners, to prevent drafts.
  8. If you have an older thermostat, consider replacing it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs.
  9. Install foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce outside airflow.
  10. Make sure fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down to the floor for enhanced energy efficiency and comfort.
  11. Flush hot water heater tank to remove sediment, and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it’s in proper working order.
  12. Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces, and use a sealant to plug up any leaks.

Gutters, Roof, and Drains

  1. Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles and replace, as necessary before you get stuck with a leak.
  2. Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate using roofing cement and a caulking gun.
  3. Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening, and re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and icecan pull gutters off the house.
  4. Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet to prevent flooding of the foundation and water damage from snowmelt.
  5. Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.

It is always a challenge to get started with a long list of chores but by taking care of your property you prolong the life of it and you will enjoy a safe and warm winter in this beautiful winter wonderland we call home.

Planning a New Kitchen in Your Muskoka Home?

Sargeant49 important questions before you start

We all want a dream kitchen so before you start here are some tips experts have developed to help you get one. Start with a clear view of what you intend. Focus on the things you want and those you need. This will help you see where you can compromise if necessary and where to stick to your goals.

A kitchen renovation can seem overwhelming when you start the process. There are lots of elements to get right. It is not simply the design but all the other factors from appliances to how will it fit the style and décor of the rest of your home or cottage.

1.Define the vision. Ask the big questions before you do anything. You need to establish how you want your kitchen to function. Do you have a large family and want your new kitchen to be the place where you all spend time, eat meals do home work? Do you love to entertain and envision a stunning space to show off your culinary skills? Ask yourself some clear questions to help build your vision, do you love to cook or is it a necessary function? Will you need a desk or work space here?
By asking yourself questions before you start making decisions you identify exactly what you want and what you need out of your available space. By knowing what you want at the beginning you are less likely to get off track once you have started.

2.What are my needs? After you’ve defined the vision or theme of your new kitchen, you need to identify the nonnegotiable things that are at the top of your wants and needs list. Your needs are the things you cannot do without. Things like an eating area or a large window – the important things that will control your joy level when being in the new kitchen. Don’t over focus on things that will go out of fashion over time like paint colours or even appliances as they can all be changed. Hopefully, you won’t need to make compromises on these needed items.

3. Making a compromise or two. Once you have defined the vision and made sure the needs are in place it is time to look at your want list and perhaps some of the compromises that may be required. You may want a new gas range but it is not in the budget! The solution is simple, make sure the space for the dream stove is created now but buy it next year and use your existing one for now. Some compromises are a bit harder to make. You may have wanted a feature that the space available simply cannot accommodate and that is a tougher compromise to come to terms with.

4.Creating an efficient layout? The layout of your kitchen is a big decision, and you may need professional advice. It is best to sketch it carefully and note where the gas and electrical outlets are going to be for each appliance, and of course drainage for plumbed items. Kitchen designers like to create zones for cooking, washing and prepping which is a great tip for creating good flow.

Consider the space between cooktops and windows or tower cabinets, and between electrical outlets and sinks. Think about which appliances can sit near others, and remember to make sure doors can open safely. Don’t put islands too close to a run of cabinets as you will want to be sure to have a comfortable walkway. Many cabinet retailers will have software that can draw a plan for you and some will even visit your home or cottage to measure and check the positions of things.

5.Don’t forget the lighting and heating? It is very important that while you are still in the planning stage you consider the accompanying elements of your new kitchen design. The lighting and heating are important and it is vital to get it right, not only to create a welcoming atmosphere, but also to see clearly while you’re cooking! Decide whether you need direct lighting over the work surfaces and pot lights in the ceiling. Lighting has come a long way and there are some very glamorous options that can have a significant impact without a huge cost.

The heating system is like the kitchen cabinets and appliances, it’s best to decide on positions for these at the outset so that you can get services installed at the correct locations before the kitchen goes in. Once you’ve decided on the layout of your heating and lighting, as well as the position of your appliances and cabinets, try not to make any huge changes as it can be costly to reposition or divert your utilities once you’re at the installation stage.

6.Don’t forget about building permits? If you’re having structural, electrical or plumbing work done as part of the job, you may need to obtain a building permit before you start work. If you’re undertaking this level of work you may have an architect or a building contractor who will be able to tell you how to go about applying for the right sort of permission for the job.

7.What’s my style?Once you have determined all the practical aspects of your reno you can start to think about the fun stuff! You most likely have browsed the internet or the pages of decorating magazines but now with your vision, wants and needs list you can zoom in on the final “look” you want. Perhaps it’s a farmhouse kitchen with a huge harvest table or perhaps a sleek minimalist block with hidden appliances? Whatever you seek, with careful planning you should be able to achieve it and  stay within budget.

8.Hiring a contractor? Perhaps the weightiest decision you will have to make when undertaking a kitchen reno, is choosing the right people to do the work. Many builders will be happy to take on your whole project, with responsibility for the building work, cabinetry, electrical and plumbing considerations too. However, if you are not making any structural changes you may not need a building contractor. You can act as your own general contractor and coordinate the tradesmen you need to do your project. You may need to employ a cabinetmaker, a certified plumber or electrician, tilers and drywall and plaster experts as well as flooring and heating trades. Remember to ask for estimates and get references.

9.Choosing the finishes. Before the work has started finalize as many things as possible like sinks and faucets, countertops, and appliances as well as the tile and flooring. Don’t wait until your contractor needs the items and you rush to obtain them, rather get ahead of the time line so that you won’t be rushed at installation stage. This will ensure that you do not make snap decisions that you may later regret.

These 9 steps are a great guide to a successful kitchen renovation. No matter the reason for the reno, getting it right will bring you a great deal of pleasure and add value to your Muskoka home or cottage.

How to Choose a Great Muskoka Handy Man

Karen Acton - Muskoka Handy Man

We all know how busy the skilled handy man in Muskoka is and how hard it is to find one when you need one. The temptation is always there to go the route of letting the friend of a friend fix or renovate for you. But when things go wrong you are left in a difficult position. Whether it’s a big project such as a bathroom remodel, something small like putting up shelves, or just simple repairs and routine maintenance, many busy home and cottage owners need to turn to a capable handy man to get the job done. Finding a qualified, professional, and reliable handy man can be a real challenge.

Here are some tips for you to help ensure that you find the right person for the job:

ARE THEY QUALIFIED FOR THE WORK

Unfortunately, all handy men are not created equally! If your project requires specific skills make sure that the handy man you hire has the qualifications and experience to do the job. Don’t forget that in Ontario some jobs require that a person, other than the home owner, performing certain work must be licensed; electrical and plumbing often fall into this category.

GET REFERENCES

Request at least two local references from previous customers. Any good handy man should be willing to do this without hesitation as his reputation is his stock in trade. Don’t just ask for them, check them! Inquire about the quality of the work, timeliness, professionalism, and how the handy man handled any changes that may have occurred during the project.  I find it good to ask if they would hire him or her again.

PUT IT IN WRITING WITH A PROPER ESTIMATE AND A CONTRACT

If you can find 2 or 3 handy men with good references then you should ask them for written estimates for the work you have in mind. Be sure that each estimate contains enough detail that you can make a comparison between them, after all it is not fair to compare apples with cabbages. For example, are the specified materials of the same quality? Does the cost include cleanup and hauling away any debris or old/broken items? Read all contracts carefully and be sure to ask about anything that you are unsure of.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT INSURANCE COVERAGE

Liability insurance is always important. If the handy man or maybe an employee of his/hers is injured while working on your property, you may be held liable for their medical costs and other expenses. Ask for evidence of their WSIB coverage before agreeing to any work. If they only work directly for home owners they do not have to have WSIB and may be depending on your policy for protection. They should also have insurance against their errors and omissions so you are protected if they do damage to your home or cottage accidently when working on the project. Uninsured handy men often charge less for their services because they lack the overhead expense of insurance, but using them could cost you in the long run.

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE PAYMENT SCHEDULE BEFORE YOU SIGN

Be cautious if you are asked to pay for the entire job up front – this is not an accepted business practice and could leave you open to fraud. Handy men will often ask for 50% up front to allow for the purchase of materials. You may have agreed to a “Time and Materials” contract with a weekly invoice being submitted or you may have even set up an account at the supply store so the materials can be billed directly to you and only need pay the handy man his weekly labour cost. Whatever the details are, be sure you are all clear on them and request receipts for all payments.

Whatever your project once you have found that great Muskoka Handy Man you will keep him or her close to your heart! A capable honest and dependable handy person is golden – someone you will recommend to friends being confident they will not let you down.

 

 

Understanding Algae in our Muskoka Lakes

Lake Vernon - Karen ActonHave you noticed there is a lot more talk about algae blooms on our lovely Muskoka Lakes even though the conditions this season have not been conducive to the development of blooms! Over the past 10 years throughout Muskoka there has been an increase in the number of algae blooms reported.

Something I have learned and think you may want to know is that the relationship between algae, algal blooms and water quality is complicated but that the presence of algae in your lake does not necessarily indicate reduced water quality.

What are Algae?

Algae are tiny floating organisms (phytoplankton) or attached (periphyton) plants found in lakes and rivers. They contain chlorophyll and carry out photosynthesis.

Algae are the base component of the aquatic food chain and are a critical component of a healthy aquatic environment. There are many different types of algae found in Muskoka that include diatoms, green algae, pigmented flagellates, and blue-green algae.

Like all life forms algae require a food source and they require sunlight for growth.  It is the amount of nutrients available (especially phosphorus and nitrogen) that will limit the amount of growth of algae in a lake.

There are several other factors that affect the growth of algae in our lakes. Environmental factors that determine the type and number of algae in your lake are:

  • Water temperature;
  • The physical removal of algae as it is flushed downstream;
  • Grazing on the algal populations by microscopic organisms and fish;
  • Parasitism by bacteria and fungi; and
  • Competition from aquatic plants for nutrients and sunlight.

 Phosphorus and Algae

Phosphorus in reasonable amounts is required to help drive aquatic systems. It is a valuable nutrient that promotes plant growth and forms the base of food chains in ponds, streams, lakes and rivers.

Unfortunately, when lakes become nutrient rich it can lead to algae blooms and eutrophication. Algal overgrowth can destroy the appearance of water, make water taste unpleasant and smell, reduce clarity, and change the colour of the lake to a vivid green, brown or yellow.

Natural sources of phosphorus include wetlands and the atmosphere, while man-made sources include:

  • Urban and agricultural runoff
  • Sewage discharges and septic tank seepage
  • Eroded streambanks
  • Fertilizer runoff and detergent wastes.

Nothing can or perhaps even should be done to reduce the nutrients entering your lake from natural sources however reducing the nutrients from man-made sources should be minimized and can hopefully prevent excessive algae growth in the future.

What are Algal Blooms

When there is excessive growth of one or more species of algae, it is called a “bloom”.  Algal blooms can happen at any time of the year but are most common in summer.  Algal blooms usually occur after calm, hot weather when the water gets warm. Blooms are caused by several factors but an increase in nutrients and the right weather conditions often result in the formation of a bloom; just as fertilizing a lawn makes the grass grow faster. In other instances, something may change in the environment to favour one species of algae over another, leading to a population explosion.

One of the most serious consequences of an algae bloom occurs when the bloom dies off. As algae die, they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, depleting oxygen levels. The depletion of oxygen in the bottom layer of the lake can free phosphorus trapped in the sediments and reduce the amount of oxygen available for the survival of other aquatic organisms, including fish.

Algal Blooms can occur sporadically in lakes that don’t have elevated levels of nutrients. Therefore, increased levels of phosphorus cannot be relied on as the sole rationale for sporadic or individual algal blooms, and the presence of an algae bloom does NOT necessarily indicate nutrient enrichment.

Blue-green Algae

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are photosynthesizing bacteria, not plants. Blue-green algae are commonly found in lakes and ponds. Some types of blue-green algae produce toxins while others do not.

The only way to determine if a sample of blue-green algae contains species capable of producing toxins is to analyze the sample in the lab.

Blue-green algae blooms are likely to occur during sunny, calm weather when high concentrations of nutrients are present in water. Fresh blooms may smell like fresh-cut grass, while older blooms may smell like garbage. When the algae die and decompose, toxins may be released in those species that produce them. Symptoms from drinking water contaminated with blue-green algae include headaches, fever, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain or stomach cramps, sore throat, nausea and/or vomiting.

Blue-green algae have several characteristics that enable them to out-compete other species of algae, including:

  • The ability to adjust their buoyancy so they can float or sink depending on light conditions and nutrient supply
  • Using nitrogen fixation to maintain high rates of growth when other forms of nitrogen are depleted
  • They are less favoured by predators than green algae because they produce chemicals that make them ‘taste bad’.

 

So here is the bottom line as a cottage owner or renter. Algae are a normal part of the ecology of aquatic life. They usually pose no risk to us. They need specific conditions to “bloom” some of which we can help mitigate by being aware of our phosphate loading from our septic system. This can be done by selecting our detergents and fertilizers with care.  Most algae are not harmful to humans but blue-green algae can cause sickness and in extreme cases serious illness. Water that has a blue-green bloom should be avoided.

I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON ALGAE but I do feel that good stewardship of our lakes is vital and the Muskoka Watershed Council and Muskoka Water Web have great resources to assist us in doing that.

Algal bloom sightings can be reported to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Changes Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.