Watersheds draw scrutiny

The Okanagan Basin Water Board discussed the issue of source protection Tuesday

Mudboggers roaring around watersheds have local communities calling for action.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board discussed the issue of source protection Tuesday and specifically recreational activities that threaten water quality and critical infrastructure, such as dams.

“I don’t know how we get around the recreational aspect and desecration?” said director James Baker.

Much of the discussion revolved around the Greater Vernon Water Utility’s experience with people entering the Duteau Creek watershed.

“They love to get out in their ATVs and four-by-fours,” said Renee Clark, GVWU water quality manager.

“The reservoirs get drawn down in the summer and it looks like a great place to go and play.”

Another concern is what all-terrain vehicles do to the integrity of dams holding back reservoirs.

“If they breach, the inundation area is Lumby and there would be property damage. Who would be liable for that? We would,” said Clark, adding that the water utility owns the dam and is responsible for safety.

“We have tried to fence the dams but it’s a big area and new routes are found.”

There have also been problems with other infrastructure being damaged and warning signs being shot and utility staff must clean up the trash and human waste left behind (there are no outhouses at the reservoirs).

Clark says the situation at Duteau Creek is experienced in watersheds throughout the Okanagan and something must be done.

“Let’s find some way to do this from a political and policy perspective,” she said.

“If we can protect the source, treatment is a lot less.”

Presently, a license of occupation through the provincial government doesn’t allow for exclusive use of a watershed by a utility.

Among the possible options are leasing the land to prevent recreational activities or establishing recreational campsites at reservoirs so there are some guidelines in place.

Clark isn’t convinced that formal campsites will work given summer conditions at reservoirs.

“The lakes are drawn down in August so they’re not a place people will hang out at (to camp) but people will still ATV,” she said.

Doug Findlater, OBWB chairperson, points out that there was an issue with ATVs in the Bear Creek watershed, off of Westside Road, and various agencies came together to create formal trails and enforcement.

“They took control of it and allowed people in but under controlled conditions,” he said.


Vernon Morning Star