jeudi 2 août 2007

Minister promises measures to stop blue-green algae

Minister promises measures to stop blue-green algae

Beauchamp to Tour Affected Lakes. No promises to crack down on farmers; Greenpeace decries 'lack of political will'
MARIANNE WHITE, CanWest News Service
Published: 6 hours ago
Montreal Gazette

The provincial government said yesterday it may bring in regulations to stop the spread of blue-green algae in Quebec's lakes but played down the magnitude of this summer's outbreak.

The restrictions could target farmers and residential septic tanks and may include lakeshore buffer zones, Environment Minister Line Beauchamp said.

But Beauchamp said she will not take action immediately. First, she wants to tour the regions affected by the toxic algae to consider all the causes.

"There's more than one cause of cyanobacteria and we will take action, if need be, only if we find a consensus," she said, refusing to point a finger at anyone.

This week, Greenpeace urged Quebec to act promptly by revoking a pact with the provincial farmers association that exempts that group from some environmental laws until 2010. The environmental group says farmers can play a key role in keeping lakes and rivers clean to minimize blue-green algae growth.

Fewer than half the affected lakes are surrounded by agricultural facilities, the minister stressed. "So we can't say it's the main cause," she told a news conference at the National Assembly.

Greenpeace spokesperson Eric Darier said he was hoping for immediate action, and he deplored what he called the government's "lack of political will." "Nothing is going to be done before the summer is over, so it's very, very disappointing," he said.

Cyanobacteria blooms have been spotted in 85 Quebec lakes this year, but a warning against consuming or using water was issued for only 13 lakes. In other cases, Beauchamp said, her department red-flagged a lake only to warn the public.

"It only means people should look for cyanobacteria blooms before swimming or using water from the lakes. That's it. It's not a ban," the minister said.

She contends the public misunderstood the warnings and she wants to launch a campaign to explain the problem better.

The situation is not as alarming as last year, when 72 lakes were affected by blue-green algae and water use was forbidden in all those cases, she said.

Beauchamp tried to assure the public about the safety of Quebec's waterways.

"Out of Quebec's 500,000 lakes, only 85 are affected. I think the situation is worrying and I'm not trying to minimize it, but it's only 85 lakes," she said.

The government has been the target of criticism for mishandling the issue, especially from Quebecers whose businesses depend on waterways.

Premier Jean Charest will hold a meeting with experts in September to come up with a plan to tackle the problem, Beauchamp announced.

The Action dmocratique du Quebec said the government is covering up by launching a public relations campaign.

"It's too little, too late, so the minister goes on a tour of the province. It's everything but reassuring," the ADQ's Franois Bonnardel said.

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois added: "The government has been there for five years and they have come up with no real measures."

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