Watershed safety sought

RDNO demanding Ministry of Forests restrict access to watersheds

There is growing pressure to protect the North Okanagan’s community watersheds.

The Regional District of North Okanagan board voted Wednesday to demand that the Ministry of Forests restrict access to watersheds and increase enforcement.

“We need to put the conservation officers on notice not to just sit at the bottom of a hill and check (vehicle) licenses but get up into the bush,” said director Brian Quiring.

Water utilities are unable to fence off watersheds because they are on provincial Crown land, and that has led to significant issues with off-road vehicles on the Grizzly, Aberdeen, Haddo and King Edward dams, which serve Greater Vernon.

“People are accessing them at the bottom and using them as hill climbs,” said Renee Clark, water quality manager.

“Grizzly dam is becoming a destination – people from Alberta, Kelowna, Vernon.”

In fact, there were reportedly 500 people at Grizzly Lake on the May long weekend.

If the dams breach from degradation, not only would Greater Vernon lose a substantial portion of its water supply, but the sudden flow of water could negatively impact areas downstream.

“If the dam fails, we are the owner and we are responsible,” said Clark.

Another threat also exists when people are informally camping along the dams.

“There would be a tremendous loss to the watershed if we had a fire,” said director Herman Halvorson.

Director Doug Dirk is frustrated provincial rules stop communities from protecting water sources.

“We are spending millions of dollars on water quality but we can’t restrict access to watersheds,” he said.

Director Janice Brown also believes it is ironic that provincial agencies are insisting communities spend money on water quality infrastructure when government rules leave reservoirs exposed.

“They don’t want to come to the plate to protect our watersheds,” she said.