Corbett applauds N.B. water quality report, but calls for more details in next one

Our Executive Director Lois Corbett says the provincial government’s new water quality report provides a solid snapshot of the state of surface water in New Brunswick — though she has recommendations to make the next report even better.

“For what it does have in it, it’s a very good report and it’s relatively easy to follow along,” Corbett told CBC Shift’s Vanessa Vander Valk on Nov. 12.

While applauding the province for following through on its 2017 commitment to release an annual water quality report, Corbett noted that many indicators of water quality were not captured in the report, such as data on groundwater and well water.

Also left out are what Corbett calls “the nastier things that are still in some of our waterways.”

“Think way way back to DDT, for example. We have some concentrations of that in some streams and rivers in New Brunswick,” Corbett said, adding the report didn’t capture heavy metals such mercury build-ups near dammed rivers.

The report, The State Of Water Quality In NB Lakes and Rivers, analyzed surface water samples collected between 2003-2016.

It found that, overall, water quality in New Brunswick has improved over the past 30 years thanks to regulations and water stewardship activities. It also noted, however, eight test sites along the Wolatoq (St. John River) that only received a “fair” ranking, meaning the water quality measurements in those areas exceeded guidelines, potentially by wide margins.

Water quality indicators covered in the province’s report included: dangerous bacteria such as toxic strains of E.coli; select heavy metals such as aluminum and beryllium; general indicators such as temperature, pH levels and watercolor; and nutrients found in fertilizers such as nitrate and phosphorus.

Phosphorus, Corbett noted, is a particularly important nutrient to keep an eye on. While it occurs naturally, it can also end up in our waterways through leaky septic systems, agricultural run-off, and run-off from soil disurbed by large-scale clearcutting.

“It’s (phosphorus) part of our fertilizer, it’s part of nature, it helps plants grow, including those nasty ones that we don’t want, like algaes.” Corbett said.

When rivers or lakes get overloaded with phosphorus, blue-green algae (or cynaobacteria) blooms can form. Certain strains of cyanobacteria contain toxins and can cause skin irritations in the form of rashes, hives or skin blisters, and can result in illness among people and animals. An even smaller, less-well-studied group of the bacteria produce anatoxins, which bind to the neuro-muscular junctions of whatever ingests them. The past two summers, dogs have died after consuming the more toxic form of blue-green algae along the Wolastoq river near Fredericton.

“In a warmer world we have to take every step available to limit excess phosphorus — not natural phosphorus, but excess phosphorus – coming from sewage lagoons, sewage treatment plants, runoff of fertilizers from farming, and all nutrients, especially those released out of the soil by large-scale clearcutting,” Corbett said, adding the province should  increase the size of buffer zones separating agricultural lands from our waterways, and redouble efforts to stop sewage from entering New Brunswick’s lakes and rivers.

Recommended links: