Boaters have responded well to suggestions that they change some of their habits for the sake of drinking water in Kalamalka and Wood lakes.
During the summer of 2016, researchers from Ecoscape Environmental Consultants Ltd. and Larratt Aquatic Consulting Ltd. conducted a study into the impact of power boat activities on both lakes close to drinking water intakes and the impact created on water quality due to propeller turbulence disturbing the lakebed.
That causes sediment, which can contain harmful bacteria and chemicals, to enter drinking water intakes and contaminate the water source.
Scott Boswell, program manager with the Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program which coordinated the research effort, said the study recommended reduced wake generation along the shoreline and around drinking water intakes, and confining higher speed and wake-based activities to the middle of the lakes.
Other study recommendations include improved safeguards against spills of hazardous materials into the lake such as gas, oil, harmful solvents and sewage, and ensuring all fueling stations on the lakes have a spill response plan to detailing how to manage spills and a spill kit for clean-up requirements.
He said the OCCP reached out to the public with the study recommendations to gauge public interest and support for lake water protection at local public events and boat launches.
“I was surprised a little by the response as I thought there might be a little more pushback from boaters. But we talked to about 100 people launching their boats in September, locals and tourists alike, and only about five didn’t have any interest in what we had to say,” Boswell said.
“But I think boaters want to make the right choices and are looking for some guidance or education on what those choices should be.”
Boswell said the study began with the potential outcome of an identified need to curtail the volume of boat traffic on both lakes.
“But we found there is more capacity for boats to be on the lakes so we changed our focus to looking at the impact of the boat traffic that is there now and how to minimize that impact,” he explained.
While boating traffic on both lakes is likely to increase in the future, Boswell said the opportunity arose to propose preemptive steps to protect the lake drinking water quality now rather than waiting until the situation required more draconian reactive steps.
Boswell said the OCCP will compile a survey of boat traffic management initiatives in other B.C. lakes and then develop a study implementation strategy early next spring.
Besides municipal governments in Vernon and Lake Country, the study also has the interest of the provincial and federal governments which both have regulatory jurisdiction on different aspects of both lakes.
Boswell said his organization is already working on terms of reference for a similar study on Okanagan Lake, having already consulted with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Westbank First Nation among other groups on what that might look like.
He acknowledged it will more complicated than the Kalamalka/Wood Lake review because of the multiple civic government jurisdictions around the Okanagan Lake shoreline and drinking water intake sources.