The Shuswap River needs protection
Environmentally conscious Shuswap River residents have been advocating for improved boating regulations since 1994, when the first application was made to the federal government for a 10-horsepower motor restriction. The regional district initially supported the restriction, but they capitulated soon after the powerboat community began lobbying for no changes. Since then, the problems have swelled with an estimated two metres or more of riverbank in some areas lost to erosion, as the number and size of speed boats continues to increase.
Organic farmer Hermann Bruns grew up alongside the river where he has witnessed the problems first-hand, and he has been a strong advocate for improved protection. In 2010, he made a presentation to the regional district, on behalf of the Mara River Group, about the rising impacts of motorized recreation that called for a planning process to address all the concerns in the watershed. As a result, the Shuswap River Watershed Sustainability Plan process began and four-years later, after extensive public consultations, it was completed.
One of the key strategies in the plan is to establish boating regulations that include either a no wake zone or a speed restriction between Mara Lake and the Trinity Valley Bridge and a non-motorized zone between the bridge and Mabel Lake. The first step to achieving this goal is more public consultation, including the online survey that can be filled out up until August 28.
A number of studies have been conducted to determine the level of impacts to the river from motorboats. In 2013, two remote cameras installed along the river provided some statistics on the growing number of boats. The numbers are highest during the weekends in July and August, when hundreds of high-powered speedboats, personal water craft and pontoon boats cruise up and down the river, some towing water skiers and wake boarders.
Scientific studies done in other regions do show how motorboats can cause erosion of riverbanks, which can result in sedimentation and turbidity of water, destruction of riparian vegetation, damaged waterfowl nests and the loss of land. Vessels, especially wake boats, create amplified wave action that is far more erosive than wind-generated waves or natural currents, and these problems are intensified during high water. A 2013 study at the Shuswap River showed how the impacts vary in different locations depending on the amount or types of riparian vegetation, the presence of protective barriers such as islands or the actual shape of the river.
The final 2014 report on Shuswap River erosion processes describes how the shear stresses during the spring freshet are too small to cause erosion, whereas the peak period for erosion is during July when the river level is still high and boating traffic is extremely busy. The influence of boats later in the year is less because the water levels are too low to erode the banks. Overall, the authors noted that results were inconclusive in regard to the overall impact of boating because there was only one year of data and more efforts are needed to understand the natural factors involved; however, the report does conclude that boat wakes do cause impacts.
Another major issue regarding boating on the river is that of safety, as the chance for collisions with non-motorized river recreationists increases as the size and number of motorboats increase. On a busy summer weekend day there can be upwards of 800 tubers floating down the river to Enderby and there have been reports of near misses.
There is a growing trend in recreation that shows a shift from motorized activities to non-motorized, including hiking and cycling, to water sports like canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Yet the motorized recreation community can be strong lobbyists and already there is a very active effort to convince the regional district to maintain the status quo. Given that motors also pollute and add more carbon to the atmosphere, it only makes sense that the shift to non-motorized recreation should be promoted and that restrictions be created to better protect the Shuswap River.
Since the campaign began over twenty years ago, voluntary measures, including signage and recommended speed limits, have been largely ineffective. Existing laws governing waterways only address safety and do not cover the environmental impacts from the proliferation of powerboats. The only solution now would be stringent regulations and effective enforcement, but concerned residents need to get involved. You can help by filling in the survey at rdno.ca.