Dredge work to improve canal linking Kalamalka and Wood Lakes tied up in red tape | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Dredge work to improve canal linking Kalamalka and Wood Lakes tied up in red tape

The Oyama Canal, June 11, 2021.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Tween Lakes Resort
June 20, 2021 - 3:32 PM

A Lake Country resident who wants to see safe passage for boaters between Kalamalka and Wood Lakes is frustrated the process to get approvals to dredge a canal connecting the two lakes has taken years.

Andrew Spear started a campaign two years ago to dredge the Oyama Canal, a passage connecting the two lakes, since the bottom of the canal can become dangerous at low water levels for boats.

“The canal is nowhere near the condition it used to be, maintained and cared for as when I was younger,” Spear said, adding that he remembered the water being far deeper in 1998 in his childhood compared to current conditions.

The Oyama Canal, June 11, 2021.
The Oyama Canal, June 11, 2021.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Tween Lakes Resort

“It’s just bad because it’s a really fun thing to do with the kids, going through the canal to get from one lake to another… and right now it’s next to impossible,” he said. “I’m concerned for the safety aspect of the canal, a lot of boats are being damaged and when summertime hits, the tourist aspect of things makes it dangerous. Many times we’ve gone through there and had to help other boats navigate though.”

He’s also seen Oyama friends have murky water as the intake is on the Vernon side of the canal.

“When the prop wash from the boats goes through, it stirs up the sediment into their drinking water, and that’s also a concern,” Spear said.

Ruth Sulentich, communications officer with the District of Lake Country, said Kalamalka water intake is 650 metres away from the canal so it’s not likely impacted by boat traffic in the canal. Wake boats are a greater concern as they travel at high speeds near the shore and churn up the waters affecting sediments at the Kalamalka intakes. The province has also told the district they will have nothing to do with the dredge work, she said.

A 2017 study conducted by consultant Larratt Aquatic listed the Oyama Canal intake as a high risk zone because sediments disturbed from boats could migrate to the intake in the right conditions.

Spear would just like permission for access to do the dredge work and he’s raised money from local businesses in the area to create an environmental management plan. He wants to receive the proper green light from authorities before going ahead with it.

READ MORE: The history of Oyama's isthmus shows it's far from untouched

He said he applied for water use permits at both the federal and provincial levels and has spoken to politicians at all levels of governments, as well as spoken with officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.

“It feels like it’s not going anywhere because one person will say ‘it’s not in our control, you have to go to this branch,’ and then you go to that one and they say ‘we don’t know who owns it,’” he said.

The work could start within a week if he's given the green light, he said.

Kevin Dimery, vice-president of the board of directors with Tween Lakes, located next to the canal, said the last time it was dredged was in 1998 and it was privately funded by the surrounding resort communities.

“We would love to see this dredged to make a safe passage through the canal. It is a very well-used waterway between Wood and Kal lake and with recreational boaters, the fisherman, even with the RCMP and emergency personnel, going back and forth while patrolling the water, it’s nearly impossible to get through right now,” he said.

Following the floods of 2017, there is a significant amount of silt that has built up on the canal bottom. There’s also trash that bottle-necks in it Tween Lakes tries to clean up on a regular basis, Dimery said.

“Ideally being that it’s a federal waterway, it should be their responsibility to look after and make it safe passage but Andrew’s proposal has been to crowdfund and do it privately if that’s what we have to do to maintain it,” he said.

Oyama Coun. Todd McKenzie said this has been an ongoing issue with the federal government. “It’s been very frustrating,” he said, adding it’s within the federal jurisdiction.

“I think the biggest problem is there’s a lot of layers and people will throw it back at the district but it’s not our baby. We don’t have control over the water end of things,” McKenzie said.

On June 15, district council made a motion directing staff to present a report on the costs and what permits are needed to dredge the channel.

An application to dredge the channel has already been submitted to the Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, May 11 and is currently being processed by FrontCounterB.C. in Vernon, a Crown natural resource online service, said Tyler Hooper, public affairs officer for the ministry.

“Any plans to dredge the channel would require the proponent to first obtain a change approval as per section 11 of the B.C. Water Sustainability Act,” he said.

FrontcounterBC then processes the report and checks that the proponent has the right to do the work, for example, checks who has an ownership interest in land adjacent to the canal.

"They also check for archaeological concerns and other affected parties. Then they pass the file to water management who assess the technical merit of the application and refer the file for consultation with First Nations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, provincial ecosystems and others," he said.

If the approval is granted, the client is responsible for all costs and for physically doing the work.

“In 1908, evidently someone dug a channel between Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake for navigation purposes. We do not know who dug the canal,” he said.

Transport Canada senior advisor Cybelle Morin said via an emailed statement the agency is the approving authority for any proposed dredging pursuant to the Canadian Navigable Waters Act. She did not confirm if it was involved with the current Oyama Canal application.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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