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Talking milfoil at Christina Lake

Alan Stanley (centre left) with the RDKB works with a small group to discuss the milfoil issue at a recent meeting; Photo, Mona Mattei
A meeting intended to gather opinions from Christina Lake residents about their milfoil removal program nearly turned explosive when underlying emotions burst to the surface.
 
Last Wednesday, Aug. 17, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary staff and Regional Director Grace McGregor convened what they hoped would be a workshop on solutions to the continued infestation of 42 kilometres of shoreline by the invasive water-weed: milfoil.
 
While the intent of the meeting was to get people to work through ideas by filling in a form with comments, the workshop format exploded into demands for dialogue as Alan Stanley, director of environmental services, attempted to initiate the written process.
 
“Our options are limited. We can continue with the existing program, expand the program, do some type of mechanical harvesting, do biological control (milfoil weevil) or a combination of methods,” said Stanley. “We could also just cancel the program. The one thing we can’t do is use aquatic herbicides because our environmental regulations do not allow it.”
 
The current program has a dive team working all summer for nine-hour-days hand pulling the weeds at a cost of $155,000. Stanley said that the option to use the weevil is limited until they can get approval for the critter from the federal government and that approval includes the need for DNA testing.
 
“If biological control is approved by the regulators, there is an opportunity to apply for grant money,” Stanley added. “This could allow an integrated diver and biological control program, using divers where they are most effective and biological control in badly infested areas such as Christina Creek. Mechanical harvesting is merely aesthetic control, it can only be done in limited areas and in most cases promotes heavier infestation.”
 
Frustrations with the dive program and the limited options available to the community were expressed by the residents.
 
“We know this is not working, we know that over a period of time we’re going to hit the wall. People who live on the lake, you know what’s happening,” said McGregor. “You know that every year you’re seeing bigger boats. Every year you’re seeing more boats, the waves are getting bigger. And that’s all doing damage to our lake. It all comes down to pieces of milfoil that go downstream and adhere somewhere. It’s happening faster than what we can pull out by hand.”
 
Some of the anger was directed towards MLA John Slater who was in attendance. The province has responsibility for the park at the north end of the lake where much of the milfoil originates, but has refused to participate in covering costs for the program. That, coupled with the property tax levels paid by waterfront home owners, caused temperatures to rise at the meeting.
 
“The property owners of Christina Lake have to pay for this,” said Slater after explaining that the situation in the Okanagan Valley is similar. “How many provincial parks are in the Okanagan? If you’re going to say that it’s 50 percent crown land, the Okanagan is more. And the province doesn’t pay.”
 
After some discussion, the participants broke into small groups to discuss and give feedback to the program. McGregor said that she will not unilaterally decide which way the program goes, and that the community’s input is critical to her.
 
“I don’t want to say which way this will go because it’s too important to the residents,” said McGregor. “In fact this may end up going to referendum if we don’t get some consensus on the program.”

Results of the feedback will be reviewed by Stanley and McGregor before determining the next steps for the milfoil removal program.