Going Around the World to Tackle Algal Blooms in Champlain-Memphremagog

Sarah Djeffal
November 18, 2019
algal bloom in Lake Memphremagog

Lakes Champlain and Memphremagog in the Quebec, Vermont and New York region experience high levels of phosphorus and harmful algal blooms that have negative impacts on surrounding communities and ecosystems.

Given that the problem is not unique to these two basins, the IJC has completed a world literature review on nutrient loading, titled “A Global Scan of How the Issue of Nutrient Loading and Harmful Algal Blooms is Being Addressed by Governments, Non-Governmental Organizations and Volunteers.’’ 

The aim was to take an extensive look at the issue by capturing and learning from how other jurisdictions around the world are addressing it. The review is meant to inform and support recommendations regarding nutrient loading and harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Missisquoi Bay-Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog. 

The review was conducted by Drs. Alain N. Rousseau and Étienne Foulon of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique’s Centre Eau Terre Environnement in Quebec City, Quebec. The peer-reviewed report has been published in the Water Quality Research Journal.

An algal bloom is a naturally occurring phenomenon where dense and visibly pigmented layers of cyanobacteria accumulate on the surface of water bodies due to an abundance of nutrients. This excessive accumulation of nutrients, namely phosphorus and nitrogen, can be exacerbated due to human sources such as fertilizers and wastewater treatment plants. Algal blooms can be considered nontoxic or toxic; the latter are referred to as HABs.   

The governments of Canada and the United States asked the IJC in 2017 to gather information and make recommendations on strengthening collective efforts and accelerating progress on this water quality issue.

algal blooms baltic
Swirls of algal blooms in the Baltic Sea. Credit: NASA

The world literature review began in 2018 with a research phase using a variety of sources such as primary literature, peer-reviewed reports, legislative materials and personal communication with experts. About 460 documents were reviewed, and a dozen relevant case studies were identified that examine how nutrient loading and HABs are being addressed around the world, including in Australia, China, France and Switzerland.

When analyzed, the 12 case studies present a series actions and management approaches that can be organized into three themes: key regulatory approaches, incentive-based approaches and risk mitigation approaches. In all cases, outreach, engagement, and educational activities were also employed.

Lessons learned include the importance of stakeholder engagement and trust-building in ensuring the success of environmental management strategies, the importance of clear governance and strong leadership for their implementation, and the fact that the magnitude and occurrence of HAB will be increased by climate change.

“This timely report effectively summarises our current state of knowledge of nutrient loading and implications for HABS,” the authors write. “It proposes solutions and paths forward to a wicked problem and should prove insightful for policy makers and managers alike."


Sarah Djeffal

Sarah Djeffal was a policy and communications analyst at the IJC’s Canadian Section office in Ottawa, Ontario.