BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Photo launches complaints

Communities need to shut down boat launches while lakes are flooded

It’s the photo that’s making waves in the flood-ravaged Okanagan.

On the weekend, Black Press’ digital team received a photograph of a boat on Okanagan Lake, creating a wake less than 100 feet from shore in West Kelowna. It was promptly shared on Instagram and Facebook and the feedback was instantaneous.

“What are people doing out boating on Okanagan Lake? Do they not understand that boats throw a wake and that wake causes further damage to docks, homes, and shorelines? Seriously what do you think people have been using the sandbags for? Get a grip, this is not the time to be boating,” said one person on Facebook.

“Show some respect for other people’s property. Karma is a bitch ….all of the flotsam and jetsam in the lake could do serious damage to your own boat. Don’t be stupid? All boat launches should be closed and boaters should be fined and have their boats confiscated.”

And that was a common theme on social media.

“This is why the lakes need to be shut down. Even the respectful boater going at a respectable speed staying the respectful distance still creates a wake,” said a Facebook user.

“Saw one across the lake yesterday and sure enough the waves hit our shore,” added another.

A regular refrain was that the police should be stopping boaters from going out on to the lakes. However, that’s not where the responsibility exists.

Boat launches on Okanagan, Wood and Kalamalka lakes are controlled by municipalities, regional districts or the provincial government and not all have drawn a line in the water when it comes to flooding and protecting lakefront properties.

Coldstream was the first out of the gate to shut down its three boat launches on Kalamalka Lake while the Regional District of North Okanagan also closed the Paddlewheel Park launch on Okanagan Lake in Vernon. On Tuesday, the Regional District of Central Okanagan shut its final two boat launches.

However, all other jurisdictions have kept their launches open and simply asked boaters not to go on the water. In an ideal world, that request should be sufficient but some people have poor will power while others ignore the impact of their actions on others.

Municipalities keep providing residents with sand and sandbags, and the provincial government is pumping financial resources into flooded communities, but what’s the point when someone roaring around in the boat can swamp all of those efforts?

Does knowing that bank erosion and damage to property could be avoided if boat launches are closed leave municipalities liable? Will they be held responsible if a boater is seriously injured or dies when their vessel slams into a submerged dock or debris?

Yes, boating is a critical part of the Okanagan’s tourism sector but public safety must come first. The lakes are at historic highs, and flooding will remain a problem for weeks, if not months.

It’s time for the City of Vernon, District of Lake Country and B.C. Parks to get serious and take every step possible to protect their residents. The first step would be shutting down all of the boat launches.

And if something isn’t done soon, expect more photos of boats to be starring on social media.