With warm weather already here in the North Okanagan, many will soon be flocking to Enderby for a float down the ever-popular Shuswap River.
But this year there will be some extra oversight on the water.
The Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) is adding additional boat patrolling on the river, to the tune of $17,000 in Safe Restart funds for the purchase of a watercraft to be used by the Conservation Officer Service (COS).
The purchase will allow Conservation Officers to conduct enhanced boat patrols on the Shuswap River, according to a staff report.
The regional district has an agreement with the COS to provide boat patrol on water bodies throughout the region. However, the COS advised the RDNO it did not have enough watercraft to conduct patrols to do so on the Shuswap for the 2021 season, because due to COVID-19, the availability of watercraft has sharply diminished.
“We said, ‘let’s see if we can go out and get one,’” Area F Director Denis Delisle told Black Press Media. “Well, they looked all over and they could only find one watercraft in Prince George that met their standards, all the rest in B.C. were gone.”
In 2018 the RDNO funded the purchase of a personal watercraft, and a second ‘loaner’ watercraft was provided by a local motorsports dealership. That allowed the COS to do coordinated patrols with two officers at a time, which is required due to safety concerns when only one officer is on the water.
With no loaner boat available this year, Conservation Officer Terry Myroniuk said the RDNO’s purchase came at a necessary time.
“It was very difficult even sourcing machines so we were real fortunate to get one,” he said.
Myroniuk worked directly with the RDNO to coordinate the 2008 letter of agreement for the COS to patrol the Shuswap River.
“We do frequent patrols on the Shuswap River to address all kinds of safety issues ranging from boating, making sure boaters on the river are properly licensed with their competency certification (and) making sure they have their boat safety equipment,” he said.
“It’s been a really successful program,” Myroniuk added. “RDNO has been really great to work with as far as the partnership.”
When asked whether the provision of a boat was meant to increase patrolling or merely keep the service consistent with previous years, RDNO Director Delisle said it was a bit of both.
He says the main thing patrollers will be looking for is safety hazards, such as floaters and boaters without lifejackets and whistles.
“For some people (it’s) a little hard to imagine why you’d carry a whistle, but that’s the law,” Delisle said. “It’s hard to imagine when you’ve had a few beers and a joint and you’re floating down and everything seems good, but when things go bad, they go bad really quick.”
Myroniuk had similar advice for boaters and tubers alike.
“We certainly do compliance checks on boats on the river; as well we do awareness with tubers to make sure they are aware of the required safety equipment.”
The COS river patrollers will also be keeping an eye out for hunting and fishing violations, environmental infractions in riparian zones and, to the relief of many locals, littering.
“The littering is something that really bothers everyone. I know with the tubers too, (most) are excellent and it bothers them as well.”
The annual littering along the river bothers Enderby Mayor Greg McCune, who welcomed news that the RDNO had secured an extra boat for the COS.
“That’s great that RDNO had that conversation, and that’s a good step forward,” he said.
McCune says he’s currently encouraging conversation among local officials and governments regarding the parking and littering issues that crop up annually on the river.
“Inside the city we’re still trying to get people to not park at one end of the other park in the middle whether it’s to use the high school or the arena,” he said. “I’ve been just encouraging everybody to get together and start talking.”