Recent deliberations by our council over livestock access to Okanagan Lake at 17000 Lakeshore Dr. have not established a compromise. Rather, they may have set an unfortunate precedent.
Horse and cattle access to Okanagan Lake foreshore within municipal boundaries do not occur in our area, and for good reason.
In the 1960s, extensive algal blooms on many lakes and beaches alarmed the public and prompted the decade long, multi-government Okanagan Basin Study.
Since that time, municipal, provincial and federal governments have spent many millions of taxpayer dollars to get waste (human and animal) out of our surface waters to prevent eutrophication and fecal contamination of our lakes and streams.
These efforts were not only directed at sewage plant discharges but also livestock waste management.
Maybe each generation has to be reminded of the incredible water quality gains that have occurred incrementally over the past few decades and that can be lost incrementally as well.
The B.C. Agriculture Waste Control Regulation for livestock allows for limited access to surface waters for watering purposes providing it does not cause pollution.
“Causing pollution” is defined as causing the impairment or loss of water use, e.g. water quality deteriorates such that the water quality guidelines for drinking or recreation are not met.
One horse can void the fecal equivalent of 10 to 15 humans.
Horses can carry E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Giardia and other pathogens, and these pathogens can survive in surface waters for days and sometimes weeks.
Longshore currents caused by winds will transport fecal matter and potential pathogens up and down the lake.
Given this, it is not unreasonable to expect E. coli counts could periodically be above drinking water and primary contact recreation guidelines for some distance downstream of a place where many livestock have access to surface water.
The notion of horses playing in Okanagan Lake is a romantic one that might still work in rural landscapes or elsewhere in B.C. such as the Cariboo, but the Okanagan valley bottom is a rapidly urbanizing landscape where water quality protection for the common good should take precedence over special interests.
Vic Jensen, Summerland