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“The Eyes of the Lake”
With beach closings in the province occurring more and more often during the summer, two beaches in the Coaticook MRC being the most recent ones to close, people of the Memphremagog region can be thankful that their great lake, uniquely in Quebec, has its
protectors: The MCI Lake Patrollers.
Memphremagog Conservation Inc. (MCI) began hiring university students several years ago to patrol Lake Memphremagog throughout the summer, looking for any changes along its shoreline, infractions to building codes, or any other kind of activity that could potentially harm the lake.
This year’s patrollers are three ‘environmentally keen’ Université de Sherbrooke students: Anais Messier, Anthony Bergeron and Ariane Orjikh, the coordinator of the patrol who is on her second ‘tour of duty’ on the lake. “As the coordinator I have more work in communications, contacting municipal inspectors when we see violations, following up on all the files, and writing the president of MCI about what we’re doing,” explained Ms. Orjikh who is completing a Masters of Biology in “Cheminement Ecologie International”.
“We’re out on the lake a lot, looking for almost anything that could have a bad effect on the lake, and we take photos of it,” said Ms. Messier. “We check to see that people carrying out construction are respecting the regulations; we’re the ‘eyes’ of the lake,” said Mr. Bergeron. “Or if we see garbage, we’ll go and get that, too. And we always have the phone with us, in case we get any calls,” said Ms. Messier who, along with Mr. Bergeron has just completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies. “We are part of the first group of students to graduate from this program in Quebec,” said Anthony with a little pride.
“But it’s not only the lakeside residents who have an effect on the lake – it’s everyone living in the watershed. When people use fertilizers or soaps with phosphates, it gets into the water system,” said Anais.
“People often call us about blue-green algae, thinking that they have seen it, but we haven’t seen any yet this summer and there was only one bloom last year. In May and June, what people usually see in the water is pollen, very yellowish. With a blue-green algae bloom, it looks like the water has been covered with a layer of green paint,” explained Anais carefully. “Fitch Bay is the part of the lake with the most algae, the most material in suspension in the water. Because it’s so deep, and other factors, it is the most vulnerable area of the lake,” she added.
“I’m really enjoying this job. It’s great to be out on Lake Memphremagog almost every day, working to save a lake; this experience is very complementary with my field of study. We’re also each doing personal studies, mine is on the turbidity of the water of Fitch Bay, which we will give to MCI at the end of the season,” commented Anthony. Anais is studying the quality of the buffer zones around Fitch Bay while Ariane is looking at oxygen levels in the lake. “When there’s not enough oxygen in the lake it could be because algae is using up that oxygen, then the fish don’t get enough oxygen; it’s the chain of consequences,” he mentioned.
“There is a lot of cyanobacteria in Quebec lakes now, and there are lots of rivers that are polluted, like the Yamaska, the Richelieu River and the St. Francois River, one of the worst rivers in the province. Agriculture is the biggest problem, for example, the buffer zone along waterways on agricultural land is only three meters,” commented Ms. Orjikh.
Ariane continued: “I believe that Lake Memphremagog is a good lake; there was only one algae bloom last year, and none
yet this year. There were a lot of algae blooms on the lake in 2006 – we don’t want that to come back. Here on Lake Memphremagog so many people work for the protection of the lake. That must continue.”
Anthony agreed that the lake had many protectors, people trying to minimize or eliminate their harmful human activity: “The people should continue to do the right thing and to treat the lake with respect. They’ve done a lot to protect their lake but there is still work to do.”
Lakeside or riverside residents with questions or concerns related to the lake (cyanobacteria, constructions, replanting etc.) can contact the MCI patrollers at 819 620-3939 seven days a week until 8:00 pm, or at email@example.com.
Patrolling Lake Memphremagog this year for MCI are (l. to r.)
Anthony Bergeron, Ariane Orjikh and Anais Messier.