Norm Gaumont is worried about Vaseux Lake becoming Vaseux swamp.
Unless proper action is taken, Gaumont, who’s the Chair of the Vaseux Lake Stewardship Association, believes 20 to 25 per cent of the lake will be consumed by weeds in the next five to 10 years.
Since Vaseux is such a small body of water, Gaumont says it is an ideal environment for milfoil to proliferate. Milfoil grows on the floor of the lake – it prospers in warm waters with little current, and when depths are shallow enough for sunlight can reach the sea floor. All of those conditions exist in Vaseux Lake.
He believes the issue is compounded by the large amount of silt coming from Shuttleworth Creek. This has left the northern part of the lake with very little water depth which allows for the proliferation of milfoil and other weeds which eventually will take over the lake. Combining the large amount of prosperous and nitrates coming from upstream with the installation of the Okanagan Falls Treatment Plant – both help to feed the invasive milfoil. Faster milfoil growth slows down currents, which warms up water and allows the aquatic plant to grow even faster.
Since the wastewater plant opened, plans have been in place to create a wetland between it and Vaseux Lake to do a better job filtering the effluence.
Gaumont believes the solution is simply dealing with the three main issues. He said the construction of the wetlands project, along with occasional use of a rototiller to remove the milfoil, and creating a larger siltation pond to control silt from Shuttleworth Creek will allow Vaseux Lake to continue to be a great place for the public to enjoy..
Although harsh winters and flooding have many detrimental effects, they proved to be favourable conditions for Vaseux Lake over the past two years. Those two factors resulted in lower temperatures, deeper surfaces and faster currents – all of which stifle milfoil growth.
After two years of setback for the milfoil, Gaumont feels like the weeds can be kept in check if proper actions are taken soon.
But rototillers aren’t allowed in Vaseux Lake because it’s a sensitive habitat for other species.
Vaseux Lake is quite shallow and is a recognized migratory bird sanctuary. This means special protection of nesting sites and young which further limits what could be done to address milfoil, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “Additionally, the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel may be present in the lake, and this species is very sensitive to changes in its environment. It is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, which means any plans would also need to be reviewed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.”
Gaumont calls that “bad science.” He says the buildup of milfoil in Vaseux Lake creates an environment that is not hospitable to native species including the endangered Rocky Mountain Mussel. “The mussels need well-aerated water, which all this milfoil won’t allow.”
He would like to see the Ministry use Vaseux Lake as a test site to identify thick beds of milfoil and rototill certain areas and see if rototilling actually improves the environment for native species and the mussels compared to areas that are left alone with the existing milfoil. The Ministry said there are alternatives, “Other possible methods include having divers remove the plants, or diver-assisted dredging, however, both these methods are costly.”
Despite the regulatory and financial obstacles preventing the milfoil from getting weeding out Vaseux, Gaumont is optimistic about the impact the wetlands project will have on water entering the lake, which he says will absorb the majority of chemical inhibitors and heavy metals from the water treatment plant’s effluence. He was told that construction on the project should finally begin this fall and be completed before the end of the year. The Ministry was unable (by press deadline) to answer when a wetlands project is expected to be completed.