I happened to be at Sandy Lake Beach Park on the morning of Aug 6, 2019, shortly after the beach area was inundated with an unpleasant suspended, reddish, soapy material.
It wasn’t there when the lifegurads first arrived. They told me they first noticed it about 10:40; a lifeguard noted that one of the kids in her swim lesson group “looked like the joker from Batman because he had a brown line around his jaw as we had been treading water and his face was in the water at that level, then I noticed it on one of the other kids and as we moved in shallower, the kids noticed all over my back. At about 10:50 we pulled all of the kids out of the water”.
When they paddled out into the lake, there was a wake of bubbles behind them. “It’s on the water, then under”, they remarked. It extended out as far as they paddled, circa half way across the lake.
From the way the material accumulated on the shore and in ripples on the bottom, I got the impression that it was blown into the area, rather than being formed in-situ.
View short video.
About 1 pm I looked at a site across the lake where the dairy road comes down to the lake. There was no noticeable debris, but the water did bubble when you walked through it as it had at the beach. Later in the day I talked to a local resident on the west side of the lake further to the south, and he said it was “everywhere” and had likewise appearred suddenly in the morning.
I took a sample of the material at Sandy Lake Beach Park and later examined it under a dissection microscope. It seemed to be composed of very fine particles with bits of some sort of gelatinous material and aggregations of the same; I could see motile unicells about the same size as the very small particles, and some larger protozoa (circa 1/3rd of a millileter in length) moving through the material. It did not seem to be pollen or algae. However it needs to be looked at more critically with a regular light microscope and tested for potential pathogens.
It seems advisable not to swim in the lake until it has been properly tested and is finally clear of this material; if not toxic, it is definitely unpleasant!
Kudos to the lifeguards/swim instructors for prompt action in advising people not to swim in the lake under these conditions.
ADDENDUM 9:32 am message from Tim Outhit:
I was just advised that HRM is presently engaged in this situation and is following a preset guideline for sampling and testing. They are also advising N.S. Environment.
I have requested an update media statement from HRM that I can share residents today.
Thanks for the quick follow-up, Tim.
10.00 am: I was just told by beach personnel that ‘the lake has dropped probably another 2-3 inches, the brown stuff is still there, HRM took water samples this morning, and a NO SWIMMING will be put up shortly’.
Falling Lake Level
Possibly related, possibly not: the lake level had dropped a lot in the last week. The resident on the west side I talked to said it had dropped by about a foot in the last week. The lifeguards showed me how much the beach had extended just since the day before, and that corresponds to a 2-3 inch vertical drop.
The lake was much higher than normal in 2018 which was attributable to beaver dams being constructed on upper Peverill’s Brook which drains Sandy Lake.
Earlier this summer, the level was lower than in 2018, with a beach re-appearing where there had been none in 2018. About 12 days ago, I was talking to a fisher who knows the lake well. He had been down to the outlet, and said the beaver dams were still there. He attributed the lower water level to lack of rain. However, the precipitous drop in water level over the past week calls for another examination of the state of those beaver dams.