Lakes with dangerously high levels, debris floating on the surface, “very, very brown” water.
Posted at 1:04 am. Updated at 6:00 a.m.
At the beginning of the construction holidays, it is in fact the urgency that nowadays limits access to the lakes Memphremagog and Massawippi in Estrie, and not the desire to deter tourists from these places very popular with motor boat lovers.
This is the portrait of Michèle Gérin who was the figurehead of the environmental struggle at Lake Massawippi for 14 years and retired last year.
“Today I don’t see anyone on the lake and anyone who ventures there in a motorboat and makes waves there is seen really badly,” says Ms. Gérin, speaking as a local resident.
“In 60 years I’ve never seen the lake so high,” she says.
The past few days have been difficult for residents of the region. Residents had to clear away their docks and boats, and often clean up their land.
“And you don’t have to be a biologist to understand that now is probably not the right time to swim in Lake Massawippi,” she says, noting that the color of the water isn’t very inviting.
Also, when I hear about all the places in Quebec where sewers have overflowed, I wonder what the water quality is like in the surrounding bodies of water.
Good question, but at the end of the week it’s impossible to find out and reach anyone in the Environment Department.
Limit wastewater discharges
Johanne Lavoie, president of the organization Memphrémagog Conservation, says that when she had to go into the lake to secure her dock last week, she made sure to “take a shower immediately afterwards” out of concern for the water quality.
The heavy rains of the past few days have resulted in complete mixing of the sediments in Lake Memphremagog, Ms Lavoie notes. Add to this the effects of the recent flooding in Vermont. And that’s without considering the little-known fact that Vermont’s largest landfill site is “at the head of Lake Memphremagog,” raising concerns about the leachate (the waste sap, what) feared is entering the body of water.
The level of Lake Memphremagog is so high that since July 12, the city of Magog has issued notices urging all residents connected to the water distribution and sewage network to reduce their drinking water consumption as much as possible in order to limit the discharge of sewage into the sewage networks.
Citizens are asked to use drinking water during off-peak hours and to reduce the use of baths, showers, toilets, dishwashers and tap water as much as possible.
So line up the beach to change ideas? “There are no more beaches in Magog. They went into hiding,” Ms. Lavoie replies.
“Whole docks, chairs, tree trunks have been floating on Lake Memphremagog in the last few days,” she notes again.
Apart from any consideration for the water quality, in their opinion, nowadays it is also directly the nautical safety that imposes restrictions on shipping.
Disappointment for boaters
It’s a disappointment for Francis Girard, vice president of the Quebec Sportfishermen’s Association.
He certainly understands that the situation in the Eastern Townships is extraordinary and that water levels today could justify the occasional closure of boat ramps.
What he doesn’t understand, however, is that the boat ramps are inaccessible, and have been for several days, “but navigation is permitted for residents” on Lake Memphremagog.
On its website, the city of Magog urges residents to “restrict surfing as much as possible,” but without banning it.
Where can boaters go under these circumstances? Mr Girard complains that even in normal times it is becoming increasingly difficult to access water. (Several municipalities charge fees for boat ramp access, often under pressure from local residents who are upset that the lakes are crowded by many noisy motorboats.)
Just a few years ago “there were about thirty spots on the St. Lawrence River where people could launch their boats. There’s only six or seven left.
“It’s not us, the fishermen, who make circles and waves on the lakes,” observes Mr. Girard, while admitting in the same breath that he is sorry that “some settler fishermen leave rubbish on the bottom after their crossing”.
For many people who finally wanted to set sail in July, the construction holidays begin under sad omens.