LUNENBURG, NS THREATENED BY ONGOING FECAL BACTERIA PROBLEM IN HARBOUR
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by Michelle Moore
The picturesque town of Lunenburg on the south shore of Nova Scotia has been overcome with high levels of bacteria in its harbour for the last few years. Many have questioned whether or not the waste water treatment is the cause of both the presence of the bacteria and the odour emanating from it.
While they are not recreational waters, the harbour is frequented by tourists, fishermen and pleasure boats alike. Now the negative attention from bad water sample results and the odour from the harbour are causing problems for the town at large.
Lunenburg is 90 kilometres southwest of Halifax and is a popular destination for travellers. The best example of a British settlement in the New World, Lunenburg has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.
Situated on the Fairhaven Peninsula, the town is perhaps best known as the site of the historic shipyard that built the Bluenose.The town of roughly 2000 is flooded by tourists every summer who make up a large part of their economy. The other big contributor remain fishing to this day.
Tourism is such a cornerstone for this community, that the cover photo for the Nova Scotia 2018 Visitor's Guide is of Lunenburg Harbour. The very harbour that residents have been complaining to city council about for years now.
For local businessman Bill Flowers, the issue was creating real conflict for his tour boat company. Flowers tried to convince city councillors to seriously tackle the problem of sludge coming out of the sewage pipe into the harbour at multiple city council meetings.
An argument with Mayor Rachel Bailey in August last year resulted in allegations that Flowers had thrown some of the sludge at Mayor Bailey. The two have different versions of what exactly happened that day on the wharf but either way, it resulted in Flowers being put under a one year peace bond forbidding him to go near her.
But it was a teenager working on a science project who really brought the issue to light. In the summer of 2017, she took some water samples from 4 different sites at the harbour.
Stella Bowles who initiated a clean up of the nearby LaHave River revealed the high levels of fecal bacteria in the harbour by publishing the results of her water sample tests on Facebook, creating an uproar in the community.
It also prompted city staff to begin testing the harbour themselves. There was no need to beforehand seeing as how the harbour is not intended for swimming, but Bowles' test results indicated that the levels of Enterococci were so high that it was of concern even to kayakers and the like.
Enterococci is an indicator of fecal bacteria in the water. While swimming in the water can cause gastrointestinal illness often by swallowing the water, simple skin contact is a hazard too. It can increase the possibility of skin, ear and eye infections.
In the summer of 2017 the city tested five different spots in the harbour; Tannery Road, Broad Street Boat Launch, Fisherman's Wharf, Zwicker Wharf and Railway Wharf.
The Health Canada Guidelines for Recreational Water Quality indicate levels of enterecocci of less than 175 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml of water for secondary contact which includes kayaking and fishing where limbs are sometimes in the water, but where whole body contact or swallowing water is unlikely.
The highest levels were found at the newly built Broad Street Boat Launch where in one sample, levels were found to be 25 times high than federal guidelines recommend, at 4352 cfu per 100ml on September 6 2017.
This summer Lunenburg city council has mandated the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation to conduct water testing weekly. In addition to that, council has also commissioned a $75 000 study of the waste water treatment centre which pumps treated sewage into the harbour and may be causing the sludge.
The treatment centre built in 2003, is in total compliance with provincial regulations and has undergone recent updates including new pipes under two main streets to separate the sewage and storm water lines. Prior to its construction raw sewage emptied into the harbour.
Shanna Fredericks, Assistant Director of the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation said in addition to studying the water quality the town has asked them to put together a group of stakeholders from around the harbour.
The Lunenburg Harbour Health Advisory Group will "start discussing the health of the harbour and start coming up with solutions on how to protect the health of the harbour." The first meeting is next week.
Fredericks said, "we invited people from tourism industry, business, recreation, government and we have also been requesting apps from the public ... the first meeting will be to organize the group and terms of reference and things like that."
The latest water quality samples taken on July 10 indicate that conditions at the Broad Street Boat Launch were less than 2500 cfu/100 mL, though Fredericks warned not to compare those taken this year and last year as the methodology is not the same.
For their part, the town has issued a statement advising residents and visitors that "the town of Lunenburg is not representing that the harbour is safe for recreational use, e.g., swimming, at any time." The harbour has long had a sign indicating as much.
City officials said much of the sewage collection system is combined with storm water which means sometimes it can be under a lot of pressure. The statement said, "there are times during heavy rainfall events when pumping stations overflow diluted waste water into the harbour which may affect water quality."
It continued, "there are additional sources of effluent in the harbour though that are outside the control of the town of Lunenburg as only a portion of the shoreline is within town limits."
Meanwhile, a project currently in the planning phase may help solve the smell. The Wastewater Treatment Plan Biofilter odour reduction project was approved by council last year and was included in the 2018-2019 Capital budget. For the moment however, it is pending provincial and or federal funding contributions to become a reality.