Fill haunting Alpha Lake residents
Fill used to create a housing development on the east side of Alpha Lake may be coming back to haunt lakeshore residents.
Liz Freyman, an impact assessment biologist with the provincial Ministry of Environment says she is waiting for test results, from a sample of the orange-brown goo floating in Alpha Lake, to be completed today before a solution to the problem is sought.
Freyman says there is no doubt in her mind the substance is a form of leachate, but the source has yet to be determined. She says leachate forms a "spongy, orange algae-like" growth when combined with surface water. Leachate is the product of groundwater seeping through fill and soil and picking up the natural aluminium and iron contained in the soil.
"If there is a high organic content in the soil then the leachate, often called staining, can be a bit more of a problem as it builds up," Freyman says. "It's terrible to look at and it can smother a lot of aquatic life."
She says there is no danger to human health from leachate, but it is hard to deal with because it is classed as a having chronic toxicity, meaning there is no immediate environmental threat posed, but the negative side of the problem is "long term and cumulative."
If leachate is deemed to have acute toxicity the effects could be felt within 96 hours and action would have to be taken immediately. Once the toxicology tests are complete an action plan will be determined.
"To deal with any leachate problem, everything underneath the surface has to be removed," Freyman says. "It's one of these terrible problems that doesn't have an easy solution. It's almost unfixable, substantive leachate areas often take years to fix up."
Calvin Logue, municipal superintendent of bylaw enforcement, says samples of the orange-brown goo found floating in Alpha Lake have been sent for testing and they are in the process of trying to determine where the leachate came from.
Logue notes, however, that rip-rap used along the lakeshore has a high iron content and a drainage ditch behind the tennis court at Alpha Lake Park has the same orange colour as the leachate.
Since the Macleod family moved into their comfortable home on the west side of Alpha Lake in 1977, they have watched a lot of action go on across the lake.
Rod Macleod says he has seen the east side of the lake dwindle in size and says free fill developer John Taylor and the Whistler Housing Corp. Inc. used in developing the area may be contributing to the leachate problem currently plaguing the lake.
Macleod says when a road was built in the area alders on the property were cut down, bucked into 10 foot chunks and used as a road base.
Logue says the area in question started getting filled in the "late ’60s" and the municipality did not start monitoring the filling of the property until four years ago. It's the time in between that has Macleod and other Alpha Lake area residents worried.
"I wasn't watching every load of fill that went into that area, but there were definitely some suspect loads," says Macleod. "As far as John Taylor is concerned the (environmental) laws are there to get in the way of legitimate developers like himself. He just doesn't play by the rules."
Taylor says the problem may be fill-related, but it has nothing to do with decaying trees under the surface of the development.
"We are very anxious to find out what it is, but if you go to the drainage ditch you see the same stuff," says Taylor, president of the Whistler Housing Corp. Inc.
He says a lot of the fill came from Whistler Mountain while the lift company was building lifts a number of years ago and the orange colour may be attributable to the high iron content of much of the fill.
Taylor added the municipality has a drainage problem to deal with between Alpha and Nita Lakes as the area offshore from Alpha Lake Park does not flow well at all.
"The water just does not move well at all there," Taylor says. "If you throw a Coke bottle or a cigarette in there it will stay the whole summer long."