July 10, 2015 - 9:00 PM
OKANAGAN - In an effort to put a stop to mud-bogging and pit toilets near reservoirs, the local water board is supporting a call for greater control over source watersheds.
“The board wants our members to have more control and the province to give more support to water utilities to protect the quality of their water,” Okanagan Basin Water Board executive director Anna Warwick Sears says.
Earlier this week board members heard horror stories from Renee Clark, the water quality manager of Greater Vernon Water, of the types of activities staff have encountered in their watersheds, including trucks and off-road vehicles mud-bogging in the reservoirs when the water levels are low and campers digging crude pit toilets at the water’s edge.
“People were riding dirtbikes up the wall of one of their dams. Greater Vernon Water can put up signs saying keep off the dam but people use them for target practice,” Clark told the board.
Most Okanagan watersheds are Crown land and Warwick Sears says the province’s interest is in having them remain multi-use for such things as recreation, commercial logging and agriculture.
“If you just have a lease of occupancy, you’re not allowed to make rules about camping, you can’t stop people from trespassing on the dam, you have very little authority,” she says.
While there are some rules governing watershed activities, the conservation officers in charge of enforcing them are overburdened and can’t get to them in a timely manner.
“The board wants more conservation officers up there and better control of the land. One way is to get some kind of long term lease under the Land Act, which would allow them to protect the whole thing,” she says. “The problem is that would mean the province would no longer be the province’s responsibility to police them.”
Warwick Sears says this is not a new problem in the valley but a complicated one that’s becoming more acute as water becomes a more precious commodity.
“There is a bunch of conflicting interests. I know there’s a historical use of Crown lands for some of these activities but if you look around, there’s tens of thousands more people who need clean water. It’s you and me who live downstream.”
The board adopted a position statement and Warwick Sears says they will follow it up with a letter to the natural resources ministry urging legislative action.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015