It has been a long time in planning - and now it finally begins to take shape:
the new environmental addition to this site.
The Shuswap Lakes are a vital water source for a large number of communities with a rapidly growing population. The rich wildlife and diverse fish habitat has been a good indicator for a healthy and well balanced environment. In the recent years, however, this balance has become increasingly disturbed. The water quality has notably suffered and the calls for conservation have become more frequent. Environmentally concerned residents have begun to form interest groups in order to draw attention to this increasingly worsening problem. The rapid algae growth, which now covers most of the lake, has sent a new wave of concerns through the local population.
While many fingers are pointing to diverse potential causes and contributors, the water deterioration is a gradually evolving problem with accumulative impact. Years of uncontrolled discharge of pollutants and contaminants are undoubtedly the major cause for the lake deterioration. But the issue is far more complex, as important variables have changed. Climate change on a local level, for example, may well play a role in intensifying the consequences. If you have followed the content of this site over the past few years you may have noticed that snow levels along the shoreline have become significantly lower over time. As a consequence less freshwater from the snowmelt is being drained into the lake. It has translated to lower peak levels, and, as a consequence, to a weaker current flow through the lake. The wash-out effect has been reduced, allowing more pollutants to accumulate. Increasingly hot summers, combined with a low water table and less current flow, may increase the lake water temperature, especially close to shoreline and shallow sections of the lake. Warmer water has a reduced oxygen content, which can initiate chemical reactions in the water and place additional stress on the fish habitat. It is a ripple effect – once started there is no stopping it. It is an indisputable fact: climate change is coming - and, if we are unable to reduce local contamination soon, it will bring the balance of the lake system to its tipping point.
The beauty of Shuswap Lake is attracting many visitors to this region. Naturally, the tourism industry has become the most important business sector around the lake. But with tourism comes pollution, and the local communities carry the consequences. Noise pollution, beach erosion, and disturbances of the fish habitat by ever more powerful speedboats are some of the milder consequences. The recent popularity of sea-doos certainly has an amplifying effect to that. Numerous ski-boats with inboard engines are riding the waves, each one with powerful bilge pumps located in the engine compartment, constantly pumping a mix of water, grease, and oil residues directly into the lake. An underdeveloped infrastructure, already pushed to its limits, cannot cope with the wave of visitors at peak times. Sewage plants are overloaded, forced to discharge treated liquids too fast into the lake. It is an environmental time bomb waiting to explode. Yet, still new resorts being developed and approved without making the necessary investments in the infrastructure first. The “profit before conservation” mentality remains unchanged.
There are at least 250 rental houseboats on the Shuswap Lake. Equipped with all the luxury of a home, each one is discharging large quantities of greywater directly into the lake. With a capacity between 10 and 30 people, many carry dishwasher, washing machines, showers, multiple sinks, and large hot tubs on board. All discharges directly into the lake, including soap, cooking oil, shampoo, food particles, chemicals, and who knows what else. Once returning to the base those boats are cleaned and pressure-washed, pushing the used cleaning solutions overboard into the lake. Constantly running submerged water pumps around the dock area ensure that the degree of pollution remains invisible to officials and the public. Despite increasing calls for greywater containment and the promise of houseboat companies to comply with those demands, nothing has been done besides emphasizing the financial hardship on their business. Therefore, local residents are facing the consequences and the burden for the “cost of doing business”. The math is simple: assuming an average of 20 people per boat, multiplied by 250 houseboats, it calculates easily to a total of 5000 vacationers constantly discharging contaminants into the lake. The long-term consequence can hardly be argued as insignificant.
The large number of cabins on the lake may as well contribute to the problem. Drainage fields close to the beach or within the reach of peak lake levels flush out raw sewage into the lake. Even within easily accessible locations septic pump-outs are rare – and further down in the lake system unheard of.
Large-scale condominium developments around the shoreline of Mara Lake are underway or waiting for approval. The consequences are twofold. First, it concentrates an increased residency to a small defined area, adding additional strain to the outdated local infrastructure. Second, the main selling point for condominiums is the access to the lake and private slips for boat and other water toys. One local development campaign goes as far as offering a free boat with the purchase of one of their unit. If approved the number of private boats on Mara Lake alone can easily increase by over 1,000. It remains doubtful the small lake section can absorb such concentration without significant impact on the water quality.
Last, but not least, the lake contamination is not constrained by the borders of its shoreline. Many agricultural farms have settled along the rivers which discharging into the Shuswap Lake. Most farms had been small and easily manageable, supporting only a small numbers of kettles. Those farms are gone, often as a direct result of still ongoing misguided agricultural politics. Today we are finding large numbers of milk factories along the rivers, often sheltering 600 and more cows on tightly compressed spaces. The Shuswap River provides a clear visual example of this fact. Large milk farms utilize immense quantities of water, which is pumped out directly from the river. It is used to clean the barns, liquefy manure, and extensively water the feed harvest. To boost productivity fields are heavily fertilized and protected by pesticides. Those chemicals are absorbed in the soil and washed into the river with the beginning of the snowmelt. Even worse, liquefied manure is sprayed over the small fields, over and over again, where rain and snowmelt is taking care of the problem. Even in the winter, with snowfall in the forecast, manure is often dumped on the fields in large quantities, letting nature cover up all traces. However, with the beginning of the snowmelt nearly all manure layers are washed directly into the lake.
The Shuswap Lake has become the dumping ground for large quantities of contaminants, pollutants, pesticides, fertilizer, manure, and raw sewage. Unable to flush out the increasing pollution through the only lake outlet, thus passing the torch of “dealing with the consequences” to our distant neighbours, the accumulation of contaminants in the Shuswap Lake is showing first signs of water deterioration. New regulations are needed to address those environmental concerns. This site will seek the cooperation of local environmental groups, the media, and official sources to make a collective effort towards restoring our water quality and our environment. As a first step, shuswaplakewatch.com will initiate a comprehensive environmental impact study during summer 2010 and spring 2011. With solid information base available to local communities, better decision-making should possible in the future.
The study outline is in final review and shall be published shortly on this site in its entirety.
Please feel free to direct any comments or suggestions to the