Okanagan Lake is slowly getting saltier | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan Lake is slowly getting saltier

City crews salting roads is just one reason why Okanagan Lake is getting saltier.
Image Credit: Submitted/City of Kelowna

While it’s got a really long ways to go before being as salty as an ocean, Okanagan Lake is definitely becoming slowly saltier.

In 1973, the level of chloride – a measure of sodium chloride or magnesium chloride – was 1.5 milligrams/litre (mg/L) in Okanagan Lake.

Last fall, when the latest readings were taken, it was at 5.73 mg/L.

“Salt is fantastically soluble,” Jamie Self, aquatic biologist with Larratt Aquatic Consulting, told iNFOnews.ca. “There is no natural use for salt in the environment. Once it gets there, it stays there.”

At this point, even though it’s gradually getting saltier, Okanagan Lake is far from a risk to aquatic life, where 150 mg/L is the threshold for concern. For drinking water it’s 250 mg/L. Oceans have more than 19,000 mg/L.

“Okanagan Basin Water Board is not concerned about what this means, at this point, about aquatic life and for drinking water,” Corinne Jackson, communications director for the water board, told iNFOnews.ca. “But, it is an indication that we are having an impact on our environment and our lake.”

Contrary to what some believe, the City of Kelowna and other Okanagan municipalities do use salt both as road salt and as a calcium chloride solution that’s sprayed on bare pavement before a snowfall in an effort to keep the snow from binding with the asphalt.

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: Salt, sand or spray? That is the question every snow day in Kelowna

Jackson has spoken to the City of Kelowna and knows they use as little salt as they can. But she’s equally as concerned about private and commercial use of salt.

“We would suggest people try to use sand instead of salt,” Jackson said. “It’s not just what’s coming off major arteries by the city, it’s what the individual is putting on their own driveways and sidewalks that ends up in our storm drains. That water from the storm drains goes directly to the lake so the impact on aquatic life is more of a concern from storm drains into streams that does end up in our lakes.”

The amount of salt going into Okanagan Lake is probably increasing as the population around the lake increases, Self said.

But it’s not just the salt that people should be concerned about, Jackson pointed out.

“We have to be aware of water pollutants through all seasons and have to minimize what we flush down our toilets and into our storm drains,” Jackson said.

That includes things like chemical fertilizers on lawns.

“People are concerned about algae blooms and growth of milfoil,” Jackson said. “Those are fed by what we put in our landscapes. Use organic compost instead of chemical fertilizers.”

It also means taking old medications back to pharmacies rather than flushing them down the drain, checking the chemicals in cleaners and correctly emptying swimming pools.

More can be learned on the Okanagan Basin Water Board’s Waterwise webpage, here.

While the salinity of Okanagan Lake is not an immediate risk, there’s not a lot of testing going on, especially at this time of year.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board has teamed with Larratt Aquatic to create a webpage where people can access readings.

Most of the testing sites are monitored by the Ministry of Environment with a focus on algae growth so samples are only taken from March through September.

They don’t take readings from storm drains that flush salt and other chemicals into the lake.

The readings that showed the 5.73 mg/L in Okanagan Lake were taken in September from a station near the middle of Okanagan Lake south of the Bennett bridge.

The Okanagan River channel at Penticton showed a 5.5 mg/L reading at about the same time while Osoyoos Lake near the U.S. border was 6.73 mg/L.

Kalamalka Lake had a reading of 10.1 mg/L in August, 2021.

The website can be accessed here. Go to the Public Data section.

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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