BLUE-GREEN ALGAE (CYANOBACTERIA) IN QUÉBEC - OCCURRENCES AND THE EFFECT ON HOME VALUE
By Jessica Lemieux
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) has affected bodies of water in many Canadian provinces, including wetlands, rivers and lakes. Blue green algae blooms can resemble a layer of slime or scum on the water surface and can range in colour anywhere from a dark green, to yellow, to pink or brownish colour. Some species of cyanobacteria can produce toxins, which impact the health of animals and humans. They often also produce taste and odour, which can affect drinking water and cause off-flavours in fish. Blue-green algae can occur under certain environmental conditions, including warm, slow moving and shallow water - in addition to the over-supply of nutrients, such as phosphorus - high growth rates of blue-green algae blooms can occur.
In 2008, Québec was the first Canadian province to consistently publish the blue-green algae advisories across the province. This reportedly upset many residents of Québec and there was a common belief that the situation was largely exaggerated within the media and was giving their lakes and rivers an unnecessarily bad reputation.
Since 2013, Québec has stopped publishing the province's blue-green algae advisories at the time of occurrence. Instead, the province now only lists advisories once a year in an annual report.
Québec’s 2015 Report, Episodes of blue-green algae blooms for 2015: Results for lakes and the production of drinking water facilities, says:
Blue-green algae blooms management essentially begins with a report, carried out by a citizen or an organization, to the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change ( Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MDDELCC)). The knowledge acquired since 2007 has enabled the MDDELCC and the Department of Health and Social Services (Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS)) to adjust the intervention levels in 2013 and 2014.
The water bodies that are dealing with recurrent episodes of blooms of blue-green algae are known. Efforts are primarily concentrated on plans for where there is a new water problem or for the most sensitive water bodies due to certain peculiarities.
In 2015, the MDDELCC received 27 blue-green algae alerts on recurring lakes. The MDDELCC also received new blue-green algae alerts from a total of 72 reported water bodies, which have been visited by the Department in order to assess the situation. Of these, only 55 were actually affected by a blue-green algae bloom. Seventeen of the affected water bodies, were affected by blooms for the first time. The affected areas were in many regions of Québec, including:
- Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean
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In recent years, blue-green algae blooms were observed in several water bodies that are
used to supply drinking water. Since high concentrations of cyanotoxins in drinking water may present a risk to health, the MDDELCC, in collaboration with the MSSS, established a procedure to ensure the protection of users served by these systems, subject to regulations for the quality of drinking water.
In 2015, according to this procedure, 19 installations which produce drinking water have been the subject of spot checks or regular monitoring.
The monitoring carried out depends on the location of the bloom, relative to the water intake, the depth of the water intake and the efficiency of the processing system.
This monitoring helps ensure the safety of drinking water, and the results are compared with the established criteria. This approach ensures that the standard for microcystins is not exceeded.
Depending on the results, some recommendations can be made for those responsible for the installations of concern, including carrying out additional checks to optimize the process, or to give notice of non-consumption to the population affected.
The notice of non-consumption is to inform the public that the available water is unsuitable for consumption. In 2015, none of the samples taken from the treated water showed a concentration of microcystins above the standard.
Moreover, since 2014, microcystins test kits were used in all installations whose source of supply is recurrently affected by the presence of blue-green algae. Using these test kits has allowed officials to check the quality of the distributed water in more facilities.
How does the proliferation of unsightly blue-green algae affect the home value of properties sitting on affected waterfornt?
S. Blais and Associates Inc., Home Evaluators in the Outaouais region, believe that the detection of blue-green algae is not yet an issue that waterfront cottage owners in the area need to worry about. However, if the problem were to get worse, it could have major impacts on the eventual sales of the affected properties, they explain.
“In our private expertise for the Outaouais region, we do not consider the blue algae problems in the evaluation of properties ... Not at this time because the problem is too young to see a pattern emerge. However, if a massive and recurring proliferation settles, we may see a major impact in the eventual sale prices of waterfront properties to polluted water bodies by blue-green algae. Everything is played with us in a matter of PERCEPTION. Indeed, for the problem to have an impact, it must be persistent, real and perceived... In fact, perception is as important as gravity itself the problem of blue-green algae.”
“The reaction of buyers is difficult to predict. In this regard, we refer to fears about the harmful electromagnetic fields near high voltage power lines, raised by Swedish studies published in the early 90s. These concerns have not diminished the value of homes on edge of these transmission lines. Instead, these properties could be popular because there are no rear neighbors, and the cost is more manageable without property taxes. This example illustrates that all depends on the PERCEPTION and must be in the shoes of the buyer.”
“Any negative impact on the values of waterfront homes with blue-green algae is probably more important on high-end homes, whose owners and buyers are often more demanding for the quality of their environment. Conversely, if the buyers are convinced that the disadvantages are only temporary, the effect will be reduced and short.”
Johanne Meunier, a Real Estate Broker for Sotheby’s International Realty in the Knowlton, Québec, area, said that she has not seen a devaluation of homes on lakes that have been affected by blue-green algae.
Meunier is currently selling a property on Brome Lake, which has had publically known issues with blue-green algae in the past and was actually closed for a brief period in 2009 by the Department of Health, due to severe amount of large toxic blue-green algal blooms. Despite the lake’s known problems with blue-green algae, the prices of these waterfront properties have not dropped, according to Meunier.
Stéphane Godard, Real Estate Broker for MULTI-IMMO LAURENTIDES Real Estate Agency, in the Mont-Tremblant region, had a different perspective.
“Yes, blue-green algae in a lake dramatically affects the value of the home. Exactly how dramatically it affects the value of course depends on the history of the lake, how many times it has happened and the treatment of it.”
“If it only happened once, several years ago, it may not affect the price of homes on that lake, but if it was only a couple years ago, for example, it would still impact the price of the home.”
“Of course, if the lake has a recurring problem with blue-green algae this will dramatically affect what they can sell their home for and even the likelihood of people being interested in their property whatsoever.”
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