by Eva Lyman
Shuswap Lake Coalition, Adams River Alliance
WHEN MY husband and I first discovered the North Shuswap in 1972, it was a quiet backwater where you could get an acre of waterfront for $10,000. Commercial facilities consisted of a Lucky Dollar store and a gas station in Scotch Creek, with a few more neighbourhood groceries along the lake.
The drawing card then was the provincial park and campground in Scotch Creek. It is still one of the main reasons people come here, but in the last five years or so, development has taken off. In the past, young families with modest incomes could camp or rent old, waterfront cabins, but in 2000, things began to change. One of the first of the new developments was a row of 12 waterfront duplexes in Celista, selling for a quarter-million dollars each.
Clearly, this was a different clientele. Things have continued to change at an accelerated pace. In 2005, some of us discovered that, on each side of Shuswap Provincial Park, existing private rental cottages and camping areas were morphing into trendy condominiums costing more than half a million dollars a unit. Other luxurious duplexes have been built on the Scotch Creek waterfront more recently and the last time I checked, they were listed closer to the million-dollar mark.
What does this mean for the area and for the old-timers living on lower and middle incomes? The seasonal residents have become wealthier, clearly. A substantial proportion of them are early retirees, or pre-retirees, who plan to move to their seasonal home full-time, after they retire. This trend has not been lost on developers.
This denser development means more of everything, even sewage. We discovered the developments that were permitted – four in 2005 – had all been given permission to pipe their effluent into the lake by BC’s Environmental Protection Branch. We are not talking about insignificant amounts of effluent; the smallest amount permitted was 5,000 gallons per day, and one developer received permission to dump half a million gallons a day. That is about the same volume that the city of Salmon Arm generates from all its residents. This capacity could service the entire North Shuswap, with a year-round population of less than 4,000 people.
The pipeline for this effluent travels along Wharf Road and when local residents made that discovery, they showed up at the lake with placards. Within weeks, the demonstration resulted in a moratorium on the dumping of effluent into the lake by future, private developers. The victory, however, will be hollow if the half-million gallon permit is allowed to stand.
The functional problem here is that condo residents are still, to a large degree, seasonal. At one of our meetings with government officials in 2005, the head of Interior Health, Mr. Ken Christian stated that, under such circumstances, sewage treatment systems tend to fail when they go from a low volume flow in winter to full use in the spring and summer. This has apparently happened in at least one of the developments; a three-month start-up grace period has been permitted and this, of course, takes us through most of the summer. By sheer coincidence, an older, adjacent subdivision that takes its water from the lake by a deep intake nearby has been on a boil water advisory ever since the condominiums were built.
We are also finding out more about some of the deleterious components of even well-treated sewage. Whoever heard of phthalates a few years ago? We did not know about the persistence of pharmaceuticals, hormones and chemicals common in household use. Now we know they have "gender bender" effects, create trans-gendered as well as hermaphrodite fish and amphibians, and so on. The media run programs on the disappearing male. It’s all in the water.
Recently, another development issue has arisen: a new proposal on the site of an old private campground next to the Adams River delta and Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park to build 160 RV sites, 72 motel lodges, 46 detached motel units, three residences and four lakefront cabins, as well as an 80-seat restaurant, shops and, of course, boat moorage.
Residents were hopeful when local MLA George Abbott, the Premier and the Minister of Environment all stated that the Province would buy out the development site and add it to the adjacent park. That was in April of this year. In May, the developer began marketing his development to buyers.
The Adams River is the most significant sockeye spawning river in BC, if not the entire West Coast. Other salmon spawn here and along miles of the lakeshore as well. While some activists worry about fish farms, and quite rightfully so, are we not missing the fundamentals here? If the fish don’t spawn, or if they and the hatchlings get cut up by boat propellers, will there be any returning salmon left to be attacked by sea lice?
Lawyers in the community are currently studying details pertaining to this proposal. Local citizens hope that the Province’s plan to buy the land goes ahead, but if it does not, they are at a point when they plan to continue fighting for the salmon. This is a critical issue. Back in 1972, there was no Eurasian milfoil growing in Shuswap Lake and there was no slime on the pebbles. Today, machines are used to clear the beaches of the weeds, cutting up any unfortunate fish that happen to be swimming among them.
If sewer pipes pour 25,000 gallons of wastes into the lake on each side of this same campground daily, how clean can the water remain? How can we justify our cavalier neglect to future generations, as well as to the elders who have drank untreated lake water all their lives? This is beyond stupidity; it is criminal neglect.