Jack Knox, Times-Colonist, June 18, 2011
It was after last summer’s fatal collision between a speedboat and houseboat on Shuswap Lake that Klaus Kuhn phoned the area’s elected representative.
The Shuswap politician had gone public with his concerns about lawlessness on the lake. Sounds familiar, thought Kuhn, who represents Youbou, pop. 900, on the Cowichan Valley Regional District board.
Kuhn had been wrestling with a litany of complaints from residents of his Cowichan Lake community: Deafeningly noisy boats, drunken boaters, shoreline erosion, construction without permits, faulty septic systems, environmental safeguards ignored. When he called his Shuswap counterpart, it was like hearing his own echo.
Then he began contacting other politicians from popular B.C. lakes – Shuswap, Okanagan, Kalamalka, Christina, 17 in all. "The complaints were all the same: lack of enforcement, lack of funding."
The picture that emerged was of a quiet crisis on B.C.’s treasured lakes, local authorities left in the lurch by governments that have simply dumped responsibilities, but not the money to go with them, on the yokels.
So Kuhn put pen to paper:
"Recent cutbacks by senior governments with regard to environmental protection have left our lakes and rivers vulnerable," he wrote. "Local governments (regional districts and municipalities) are supposed to pick up the pieces but they do not have the expertise, the funding or the legal clout to deal with the problems facing our most valuable water resources."
With federal fisheries and the B.C. Environment Ministry pulling back, local governments are now on the hook not only for the boating bylaws they were already having trouble enforcing but for execution of shoreline-and streamside-protection rules. Some rules, nobody is enforcing at all.
On Cowichan Lake, the rumble from big boats with muffler bypasses on their engines – some top 800 horsepower – bounces off the mountains, creating an "intolerable" din, Kuhn wrote. Lakeside communities, their populations – and problems – swelling in the summer, say bylaw officers can’t keep up and the RCMP find noise bylaws hard to enforce. Houseboats can discharge sewage without detection. Waves from wakeboarding boats damage docks and shorelines. "Totally dysfunctional" septic systems pollute the water with impunity.
Environmental assessments for construction projects are now done by private contractors, not government, and too often their findings show a bias toward the developers who hired them, Kuhn wrote. Government rarely scrutinizes their findings.
Around Cowichan Lake, officials are struggling with the development of land being sold off by forest companies. Purchasers have been getting around subdivision rules by buying "shares" in properties in which they then plunk a bunch of trailers.
"The regulatory framework needs to be streamlined," Kuhn wrote. "There are gaping holes in the enforcement and they are being taken advantage of by some people for their own purposes. Lakeshores are being cleared, trees are cut, and beaches are created despite the Riparian Area Regulation. Law-abiding residents watching some of the lakeshore destruction are asking themselves if they are not being naïve.
They see people clearing the foreshore, cutting trees, etc. and getting away with it. They feel betrayed."
Lake stewardship groups try to fill the holes left by government downsizing "but these valiant efforts by volunteers cannot replace proper enforcement when rowdy behaviour, drunkenness and loud and aggressive boating is involved.
Policing has become so expensive that some of the local governments simply cannot afford to step up enforcement."
We all have a vested interest in preserving lakes and rivers that are valuable not only as a destination for vacationers, but as sources of fresh water, Kuhn wrote.
"Let’s not just use them to race boats on and mend their shore lines to meet individual expectations.
"We should remember that it takes incredible amounts of determination, effort and money to restore a lake to its original health once it has been badly abused."
Kuhn fired off his article to anyone who might listen. The question now is whether anyone will.
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