Okanagan Lake facing bigger pollution problems than treated sewage - InfoNews

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Okanagan Lake facing bigger pollution problems than treated sewage

Okanagan Lake.
January 23, 2020 - 5:30 PM

The City of Vernon's announcement that it will be pumping treated sewage into Okanagan Lake has been met with criticism from one local environmental group.

Sustainable Environment Network Society board member Huguette Allen told iNFOnews.ca the group has major concerns with the decision to pump treated water into Okanagan Lake.

"Every other city downstream is discharging to the lake... but I don't think it's right," Allen said. "Just because everybody is doing it does not make it right, it's very wrong."

On Jan. 20 the City of Vernon announced it would be releasing treated wastewater into Okanagan Lake. The City said three years of relatively wet weather meant the MacKay Reservoir was full and the treated effluent would as from February be pumped into the lake.

While the practice follows suit with the cities of Kelowna, Penticton, and others, Allen said the treatment facility's inability to filter out endocrine-disruptors is cause for alarm. Endocrine-disruptors are organic-compound which can affect the endocrine system and can be found in everything from deodorant to air freshers.

While the amounts in drinking water are barely detectable, Allen said these minuscule amounts are part of the concern.

"The smaller the dose the more your body accepts it," she said. "It does not recognize it as foreign, whereas if you get a large dose of it all in one swoop your body will reject it."

While the City has not said how long it will pump the treated water into the lake, Allen is worried the practice may continue long term. She's also critical of how the City got to be in this position. While sitting on the City's Liquid Waste Management Plan committee in 2010, Allen said other water management systems were proposed that could have mitigated this action.

"The City has known for over 40 years that the Mackay reservoir could not cope with much more population," she said. Allen would like to have seen the City put in regulations which meant new developments had to put in their own systems, taking the stress off the reservoir. 

Okanagan Basin Water Board executive director Anna Warwick Sears described the situation as "challenging."

"I would never say there's no risk or no harm to the environment, but it's not the thing I'm most concerned about with water quality," Warwick Sears said. "Stormwater runoff is the biggest source of pollution right now coming into the lake."

She said chemicals from gas and diesel finding their way into the lake from roads is the most pressing pollution issue facing the lake right now.

Warwick Sears said a decade ago the Okanagan Water Basin Board helped fund research into endocrine-disruptors in Okanagan Lake. The study found the levels to be at the limits of detection.

"I know there are much higher concentrations (of endocrine disruptors) coming into my body from other sources," she said. "Plastic lining of the club soda cans I drink out of or (my) hand lotion."

Warwick Sears said individual behaviour is one way to reduce endocrine disruptors from getting into the water system is choosing not to buy products that contain them.

Allen is also a strong proponent that it all starts with individual behaviour.

"I think all of us if we were told we were only going to have access to half the water we're using... I think we could all reduce our water use," Allen said. "It's amazing what people will do when they are told it's going to make a difference."

Warwick Sears said in a perfect world we'd all be reusing our wastewater, but that is currently not the case.

"We're left with this situation where people are creating wastewater, every one of us," she said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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