A Chronology of Water Quality
in Lower Beverly Lake
by Earl Patric
Prior to 1800, Lower Beverly Lake is somewhat smaller than it is today, perhaps 400 to 500 hectares. The lake size and level are determined by the geology at Furnace Falls (now Lyndhurst), and the level is probably 88 to 89 meters above mean sea level. There may be only three important islands (Mott, Whiskey, and Prisoner’s). High fish populations include lake trout and whitefish.
At this time the lake is oligotrophic, with pH around 8.0 to 8.5 due to high calcite bedrock. Total phosphate is probably 10 ppb (parts per billion) or less. The primary sources of lake pollution are native wildlife populations plus the small population of native aboriginal people. These latter have virtually no significant effect on lake water quality.
1800 to 1900
European white settlers produce a rapid increase in human population on the watershed, and there are heavy demands on the lake (then called Gananoque Lake). Water transportation has become very important. Water power needs produce major dams at Morton, Delta, and Lyndhurst, plus numerous smaller and local water power systems. The lake is increasingly regarded as a legitimate receptacle for waste: mill waste, whey, sawdust, and much other material are disposed of in the lake.
Forest land is cleared for timber and agriculture, but little soil erosion results from this activity thanks to gentle topography. At first, a highly diversified agriculture includes many grain crops plus animals. Later, the emphasis turns to animal agriculture, especially dairy farming. Lacking refrigeration, dairy farmers depend upon local cheese and butter factories to convert milk to a less perishable cash crop. It is estimated that 20 to 30 such operations produce these products in our watershed. They are nearly always located on streams to permit discharge of excess whey and wash water, which are high phosphate contaminants.
Colonel By builds the Rideau Canal system that opens in 1832. This action wipes out the water-powered industry at Morton and reduces to 26,000 hectares the entire watershed of what is now called Whitefish Lake.
During this time period, lake levels rise to the current summer level of 91.85 meters, but levels vary widely based on competing demands for water power. Dams are privately owned and operated according to the owner’s power needs.
The countryside is very open and pastoral, with nearly all rural houses associated with a working farm. Most residents can readily dispose of waste materials on the farm, and there is little or no dependence on collected waste or landfills. Plastics are unknown, purchased foods are often in bulk quantities, and there is much less packaging of goods compared to today.
Besides whey contamination mentioned earlier, the greatest source of lake pollution is animal manure. The flourishing dairy industry produces the most manure, but the horse by this time is a universal source of power on land, and produces a substantial share. Local wildlife populations are not particularly diminished, and they also contribute. Animal manure applied to growing crops are probably not a serious problem, because these contaminants are quickly tied up in soil compounds.
It is likely that towards the end of the 19th century the lake is eutrophic, and possesses high nutrient levels and 25 to 30 ppb total phosphates. Aquatic weeds and algae blooms are commonplace, and an accepted part of the lake environment.
Growing transportation and commerce introduce to the lake invasive species and destructive insects and diseases.
1900 to 2000
Steam and gasoline powered engines reduce the demand for water power and dams fall into disrepair. Water levels of Lower Beverly Lake vary, sometimes wildly until a dam is built in Lyndhurst and opened in 1960. Responsibility for dam management is assigned to what is now the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The primary demand for water power is now the local and regional electric generators. The lake remains eutrophic.
By mid-century the dairy industry begins a major decline, resulting in field abandonment and reforestation. Cattle numbers become a small fraction of earlier counts, and work horses are replaced by petroleum powered engines, with a railroad briefly assisting with the transition. With the development of rural electrification and refrigeration, the cheese and butter industries decline rapidly.
Growing prosperity produces a steady increase in waste materials. Neater communities, houses, and grounds require the preparation of landfills. At first, these landfills are merely accepted repositories for local waste materials. Later they become more carefully operated by townships and licensed by appropriate government agencies. There is a growing awareness that human prosperity combined with careless or thoughtless actions has resulted in some serious degradation of the environment.
Later in the century, the rapidly growing demand for electricity requires the construction of very large and efficient generating stations at distant locations. The demand for small-scale, water-powered, and inefficient electric generation ends, and local electric companies have little influence on the lake.
After WWII lakeside cottages become a popular seasonal recreational life style. Many early cottages are quite rustic by current standards, and gray and black waters are often discharged directly into the lake. As cottage living continues to grow, more demanding sanitary disposal standards are required, but older systems remain. By the end of the century there are an estimated 400 cottage properties on the lake, producing a shoreline density of one cottage per 110 meters.
During the latter half of the period the use of gasoline powered watercraft becomes widespread, with soaring engine sizes and boat speeds. At first most boat engines are of the two-stroke design, with the lubricating oil mixed in gasoline ending up in the lake. Later in the century four-stroke engines become more popular, improving lake contamination problems from boat-sourced oil. However, careless handling of oil and widespread use of automobiles, recreational vehicles, lawn mowers, etc. produces oil contamination from runoff.
Growing use of household cleaners, soaps, and detergents produces gray-water with high phosphate content. There is a widespread but mistaken belief that it is “ok” to channel gray-water directly into the lake.
Aquatic weeds and algae blooms remain abundant and commonplace.
By the 20th century’s end, lakeside septic systems which are absent, poorly designed, or poorly maintained are the primary source of lake pollution. Three active landfills probably contribute substantially, along with ongoing oil pollution. Animal manure and fertilizer applied during the growing season have become of lesser importance, however animal manure applied during the winter may constitute a local problem.
In October, 2008, the last cheese-producing factory on the watershed is closed. The Elgin landfill is closed, and the Delta landfill is partially closed, leaving only the Lyndhurst operation to constitute a potential contamination problem to Morton Creek and to the lake. The Township of Rideau Lakes introduces a septic system inspection program. The practice of winter application of animal manure to agricultural land is condemned. “Chemical toilets” are perfected sufficiently to promote adoption by some island cottagers. A series of 149 samples of lake water taken over a ten year period establish conclusively that the lake remains eutrophic, with an average total phosphates reading of 21.4 ppb. During this same period there were 453 secchi disc readings taken. There is no significant correlation established between secchi disc readings and phosphate levels.
Membership in the Lower Beverly Lake Association nearly doubles, with a growing public awareness of the fragility of the lake environment. The Association approves a proposal to develop a lake management plan.
The successful cleanup of polluted waters such as Narragansett Bay, Lake Erie, Block Island Harbor, etc., stand as examples of huge progress in water quality improvement. Not only can cleanup be accomplished, it can be accomplished with surprising rapidity. What is required is a dedicated and sustained effort by a large percentage of the community. Lower Beverly Lake is now in an excellent position to proceed with a successful effort.