New rototilling rules will be a boost to swimmers at Okanagan Beaches next summer | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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New rototilling rules will be a boost to swimmers at Okanagan Beaches next summer

Milfoil rototillers can get into Kin Beach and the north end of Osoyoos Lake this winter.
November 04, 2019 - 5:30 PM

The provincial government has eased off on its rules for rototilling milfoil in Okanagan lakes, but there will still be some irritants.

The province first cracked down on rototilling rules in 2013 to protect the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel. That meant places like the north end of Osoyoos Lake and Kin Beach in Vernon could not be rototilled in the winter.

Restricted areas were expanded earlier this year but the Okanagan Basin Water Board fought back, arguing invasive milfoil is more harmful than rototilling and the province has taken note, issuing new five-year permits that allow for more areas to be rototilled.

Rototilling is the most effective way of fighting against the weed. In order to make those two beaches useable at all for swimming and boating, the weed was harvested in the summer – meaning the top layers were mowed instead of having the roots ripped out.

A report going to the water board meeting tomorrow, Nov. 5, outlines the new rules that will allow for the more effective control methods.

“It will take some time to catch up,” James Littley operations and grants manager with the water board told “Even with rototilling we might not get 100 per cent free of milfoil (right away) but, after several years of back to back rototilling in an area, we’ll have almost no infestation. It takes several years to catch up again.”

How the new rules are imposed will make a difference on those two beaches.

At Kin beach, they can only rototill in water that is at least 1.5 metres deep. That means, when swim season comes, there will be a patch of milfoil that swimmers will have to pass through or over to get to deeper water free of the weed – although harvesting can help cut down the inconvenience.

In Osoyoos Lake, there are no depth restrictions so that won’t be an issue. The problem there is the old rules called for no rototilling within 500 metres of Okanagan River. That means there a 1 km long waterfront strip that reaches out 700 metres into the lake. The new rules cut the buffer to 50 metres.

Harvesting has kept swimming areas open and channels out into the lake for boats. Given the size of the patch and the fact that it’s in a very nutrient-rich area of a very warm lake, it’s not likely to ever be fully eliminated, Littley said.

The other area affected by the new rules is next to Casa Loma resort in West Kelowna. Rototilling is not allowed north of the dock but is now permitted with no depth restriction on the south side.

While rototilling is done in most Okanagan Lakes, one of the longest stretches is in Kelowna – about 5 km from the wall in City Park almost to Mission Creek.

But, along that stretch, there is an electrical wire running into the lake at Cedar Avenue and a heat exchange pipe near Kelowna General Hospital that have to be avoided, leaving patches of milfoil behind.

Throughout the Okanagan, docks sticking out into the lake, along with licenced and unlicenced water intakes have to be avoided, again leaving milfoil patches behind.

Then there are the things that just shouldn’t be in the lake at all that can damage the machines.

“There are all sorts of things in the lake that interfere,” Littley said. “We’ll wrap up steel cables or ropes. The guys have actually launched engine blocks out of the water from time to time. Pretty much anything you can imagine eventually ends up at the bottom of the lake."

The rototilling season runs from about Oct. 1 to April 1 but is affected by water temperatures that, for example, have to be warm enough for turtles to be able to swim out of some areas. There are other restrictions in place to protect not only the mussels, but other sensitive plants, fish and shorebirds.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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