Wanted: one beach-clearing mob to help establish suzerainty over the beaches of Kelowna, post-flood Sledgehammer, hardhat and attitude a must. Gloves are recommended, chainsaw optional. Bring your own lunch.
Well, maybe you should leave the Husqvarna at home but this is a call to arms. Okay maybe it’s a call to legs. Legs willing to take back Kelowna’s lost beaches by actually using them.
Life is returning to its regular rhythm in the Okanagan. The Big Flood is slowly receding, tourists are trickling back and boats are edging their way back onto the big sparkly lake.
With ebbing of the water comes a return to normal and none too soon for some people, who would like things to go back to the way they were before the flood.
Except it will never be normal again, nor should it be allowed to go back to before locals began to wake up to the abuses the owners of high-priced lakefront homes and properties have visited on the shoreline in Kelowna and other lakefront communities.
The flood was a wake up call in a way the Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003 never was. Argue about the cause — human error? climate change? natural weather cycle? — but this event is likely a precursor to even more extreme weather, fire and floods.
Nothing except chance prevents a one-in-200 year flood from happening two years in a row. Nothing prevents a one-in-500 year flood event from happening the year after.
All of Kelowna’s high water events have happened in the last 30 years. Same with the hottest years on record. Forest fires have become more frequent. Are you seeing the pattern here?
If anything good has come out of the 2017 flood, it’s the flushing out of illegal docks and shoreline development in Kelowna (and elsewhere) and the chance to reclaim what is properly public land.
We have long since lost touch with the natural flood cycles of the lake manipulated as it is through dams and lake walls, shoreline reclamation and general development.
Forests around Kelowna and throughout B.C. have been distorted through our fire suppression efforts. Where fuel on the forest floor would once have burned off with regularity, it now builds up to the point where now creates beyond-rank firestorms when a spark does land.
Kelowna reacted to the recurring threat of wildfire and began doing something about the huge amounts of fuel that had been allowed through the years to build up on the forest floors in the Central Okanagan.
Okanagan Lake has been similarly distorted through land reclamation, channeling of creeks and rivers and the manipulation of the spring freshet through the river dam at Okanagan Falls.
Building into the lake with retaining walls, monster docks and fences further distorts, creating new shorelines and changing currents.
Sediment begins piling up in places it never has before, fish habitat is changed or lost and the lake deteriorates just a little more. Building docks en masse along the shoreline amplifies the effect.
It would be tempting to declare war and call for that beach-clearing mob to establish free passage with certainty. I can’t imagine it would be too hard to get some volunteers.
It’s tempting to turn this into a class war. In this disaster, and others around here, it’s the pricey properties on the edge of the lake and those on the forest’s fringe that disproportionately bear the brunt of forest fires and floods.
Something about the fast moving fury of a forest fire buries class distinctions but the slow ooze of a lake flood doesn’t precipitate the same help-thy-neighbour reaction.
So why should I care if I live well inland in much more modest housing? That’s a good question. You didn’t see too many people lining up to help sandbag the lakeshore estates in Kelowna.
But somehow, despite knowingly building on floodplains and in the so-called urban forest interface, government steps in to help.
The irony is taxpayers are the ones that pay for it. The stupidity is these homeowners are often allowed to rebuild on the same spot.
It’s tempting to turn this into a political war and blame the proliferation of docks and big boats on the lake on the Liberals and their tinted-window friends and supporters.
In such solidly Liberal ridings as those in the Central Okanagan, it’s no stretch to see wide-walleted lake front property owners demanding reduced enforcement of such nuisances as high-water marks and environmentally sound dock construction.
Maybe MLAs Christy Clark, Norm Letnick and Steve Thomson could put in a word in with the pay-to-play set about maybe not arrogantly building fences and docks right into the lake. I hear all three have more time at work right now.
Barring that, maybe they could join the B.C. Forest Service personnel and help empty a few sandbags while they plot their overthrow of the NDP/Greens. Christy already has the hard hat.
It’s tempting to turn this into an environmental war and demand a moratorium from the new government on new dock construction and an assessment of the entire lake shore.
Or how about a ban on power boats and a fishing tax? I don’t need a scientist to tell me that hundreds of boats, most discharging exhaust directly into the water, is detrimental to the lake.
We have no problem charging people for the use of the forests; how about charging more for the use of lakes. Or maybe an annual fee on all docks plus a service charge at all public boat launches?
Sound drastic? Maybe, but Okanagan Lake, one of the big reasons many of us live here, is under pressure like never before. The war metaphor is well-deserved.
Taking back the shorelines and curtailing illegal landscaping and docks is just one front in a larger war but it's one local residents and government can get behind.
That means not letting things go back to normal, putting pressure on city councillors to keep up the fight and stepping out for the Walk the Beach Kelowna event.
That also means stepping up and helping maintain the shoreline once it’s reclaimed. Knox Mountain has its friends, so too should the beaches of Kelowna.
I will be the first to sign up.
— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org