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Quebec settlement funds $3.2-million barge project
Cottagers on Lac Heney near Gracefield have purchased a $3.2-million bargeload of corrosive chemicals they hope will reverse years of trout farm pollution that is killing the lake.
The money comes from a $5-million mediated settlement in 2004 that requires the Quebec government to pay for pollution produced by a trout farm it subsidized on the picturesque 12-square-kilometre lake in the 1990s. The 350 cottagers involved in a class-action lawsuit against the government and the trout farm, Serge Lafrenière Inc., will receive nothing.
A crew on the barge, towed by three tugboats, will have until Saturday, mixing lake water with iron chloride and injecting the red liquid into the lake. The 1,800 tonnes of chemicals will cause the phosphates produced by seven years of fish farming to sink to the lake bottom, increasing oxygen levels in the water.
Pierre Calvé, the president of the Association for the Protection of Lac Heney, said it’s probably the largest such cleanup ever attempted.
The Quebec government paid Serge Lafrenière $2 million to close his trout farm in 1999 after allowing him to produce up to 250 tonnes of fish a year for six years. Mr. Lafrenière then set up half a dozen trout farms and hatcheries in Nova Scotia that went into receivership in 2000, owing almost $21 million to about 100 creditors.
Mr. Calvé said the fish feed and resulting feces released phosphates equivalent to that produced by a city of 100,000 people into Lac Heney. The lake became increasingly turbid as phosphate levels rose and algae and weeds — which are fertilized by the phosphates — increased.
Phosphate levels continued to rise after the fish farm closed because the lake’s water is not renewed as quickly as it is in most other lakes.
“Scientists found that the real problem was that the lake lacked iron,” Mr. Calvé said. “The iron is what keeps the phosphates in the sediment rather than have it accumulate in the water.
“The fish farm left hundreds of tonnes of phosphates in the lake. Any lake deteriorates over time, but the fish farm accelerated this process a hundredfold.”
The low iron levels mean that phosphates in the sediment at the lake’s bottom is released.
Scientists who tested iron chloride in one bay on the lake two years ago found that the chemical reduced phosphate levels in the water within a few days, Mr. Calvé said.