Addressing summer water troubles at Cowichan Lake

With school back in session, the bulk of this summer’s influx of tourists is over.
Now it’s time for a damage report, and to better plan next summer.

  • Sep. 12, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Lake Cowichan RCMP Sgt. Dave Voller discusses seasonal issues on the Cowichan Lake and River during the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society’s Thursday

With school back in session, the bulk of this summer’s influx of tourists is over.

Now it’s time for a damage report, and to better plan next summer.

As for damage, there’s very little to report.

The Town of Lake Cowichan’s elected officials discussed water traffic during a committee meeting last week, while the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society discussed it with RCMP Sgt. Dave Voller a couple days later.

The situation around tubers’ float down the Cowichan River has improved in recent years, mayor and council agreed.

The subject of tubers came up while discussing a letter from Tom and Andree Fleming, who live on the river side downstream from Little Beach.

Along with the letter, they sent mayor and council an article from Maclean’s Magazine that outlines harsher penalties in Ontario that can be levied against tubers than are available to RCMP in BC.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as it was initially,” councillor Tim McGonigle said, to agreement from the table.

Police patrols did happen, Voller said during the stewardship society meeting.

In all, this summer saw 70 hours of police time in the boat.

“Our emphasis has been trying to check as many boats as possible,” he said.

Time on the boat has been limited by not only funding, but other issues as well.

Last year, legislation came in that requires that at least two people be in the boat at one time.

“That can be a problem, because we’re short-staffed,” Voller said.

Another problem has arisen through the expensive week-long boating course members must undertake before they’re able to operate the boat.

With limited funds, they can’t afford to train too many members.

There are currently seven of 11 members trained for the boat – a number that will go down by two with upcoming transfers.

“The main concern I’ve seen this year is speed,” stewardship society chair Gerald Thom told Voller.

Voller said that there’s little police can do with regard to speeding boats on the lake.

“It has to be operating in a dangerous fashion,” he said, of one way they can ticket boaters.

“Our hands are tied. We can only enforce what laws are in place.”

Noisy boats are also difficult to regulate, as there’s no easy way to measure decibels of it all – at what distance do you measure, and at what speed the boat is going do you measure, as they become louder as they get faster.

“We can examine the exhaust system and see if it complies,” Voller said, adding that RCMP members routinely do so.

The RCMP have been out throughout the summer, particularly during long weekends.

It’s been effective to see RCMP dumping alcohol bottles out at Saywell Park, councillor Bob Day said.

The Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society’s river signage project has also been a success, councillor Jayne Ingram said.

The project has consisted of seven signs donning an otter mascot, featuring different useful slogans, such as “safety is savvy/ wear a lifejacket.” The seven signs were put up on the private property of riverside residents.

Another sign reads “Expect police patrols,” which Ingram said have been happening quite a bit this summer.

The society’s seven signs accompany two larger ones, which have an acrostic poem on them with the word “respect” beginning the same list of tips for tubers that are printed on the seven smaller signs.

Over the winter months, the signs will be stored in order to preserve them for next summer’s tubing season.

The trouble with tubers is mainly related to the consumption of alcohol as they float down the Cowichan River. Some tubers become increasingly belligerent along their float, while some trespass. Some have even become intoxicated to the point where their personal safety has been in danger.

The key to success on the Cowichan Lake and River is education, Voller said.

For next summer, Voller has invited the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society out to canvas boaters at a boat launch of their choosing.

An RCMP trailer can be provided, along with seats and a table for volunteers to discuss issues with boaters before they head out on the lake.

“The message is; it’s your holiday, it’s our home,” Voller said.

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