Managing the Kootenay Lake shoreline

New collaborative document lacks regulatory teeth

Five years ago there were 738 docks, 709 retaining walls, 114 concrete boat launches and 35 marinas on Kootenay Lake — numbers that demonstrate the scope of the issues being addressed in the newly released shoreline management document presented at the North Shore Hall on Tuesday evening.

According to RDCK director Tom Newell, the shoreline document will play a key part in helping residents maintain a healthy stewardship of the lake for decades to come, and will address recent conflicts around subjects such as dumping stations, mooring buoys and the ecological impact of shoreline development.

The document is the result of work done by the Kootenay Lake Partnership, created in 2010, and other agencies going back to 2004. It does not have any regulatory teeth, but aims to provide clarity for everyone involved. Newell believes developers, homeowners, government agencies and the First Nations will all be on the same page.

“When I was campaigning a couple years back, it was made very clear to me that the pride of Area F is we have this lake and we need to protect it, take care of it, so learning subsequently that this process has been in place for many years has been really encouraging,” Newell told the Star following the meeting.

During the meeting, organizers outlined the progress they’ve made so far. According to their aquatic habitat index currently 65 per cent of the shoreline is undeveloped, which gives Kootenay residents an opportunity to protect stretches of shore that have yet to be touched.

“When we project out 15, 20, 30 or 40 years we’ll have a lake we can remain proud of, we can fish in it, and the people developing on the lake will have a clearer set of expectations about how they’re allowed to move forward.”

Pollution, fish habitats and private property

Approximately 80 residents from Nelson and the surrounding area — a show of hands established the majority were shoreline homeowners — packed the hall during the meeting. Forester John Cathro led the discussion alongside KLP chair Heather Leschied.

The presentation was geared at clearing up misinformation about who’s allowed to do what on their property.

For instance, the shoreline document makes explicit that “all water in B.C. is owned and regulated by the Crown. The Crown owns and regulates land below the natural boundary (high water mark). Upland owners have riparian rights to access the foreshore.”

That means homeowners incensed with people crossing their beaches below the waterline have no legal ground to stand on.

Another issue discussed at length was the construction of low walls or sturdy timber barriers (groynes) built out from the beach to check erosion and drifting, a habitat modification that is now forbidden on Kootenay Lake due to the impacts they have on fish habitats.

“Constructions of groynes is often accomplished by utilizing local lake bed substrates. Removal of these substrates to groynes can result in significant impacts … to the migration of juvenile fish forcing them into deeper water where they are more susceptible to predation.”

Attendees were able to walk out with the document in their hands.

Ktunaxa covenant aims to protect Kootenay Lake

For the first time, Ktunaxa cultural values have been integrated into the management plan, something Newell applauds.

“This lake has a long history, and as we heard in the meeting two thirds of it is not developed at this time, so the opportunity to protect those values is still very much in place. As we get more into the archeological factors, it’s not about not having development, it’s about recognition of Ktunaxa cultural values.”

Put another way: “It’s not about halting all construction just because there’s an arrowhead there.”

Nicole Kapell of the Ktunaxa told the crowd that this work has tremendous spiritual significance for her community.

“One reason the Ktunaxa decided to work with the Kootenay Lake Partnership is we have a covenant with our creator, it’s one of our laws that says we’ve been put here for a purpose to look after our land and resources. If we look after the lake, it will provide for us.”

So how come they’re the only First Nation involved?

“The other First Nations in the region chose not to participate in this process given their priority geographical areas, however they have been and continue to be kept informed,” reads the report.

“For the Ktunaxa First Nation, their cultural values around Kootenay Lake are significant. This does not mean that there are not other cultural values around the lake.”

One outcome of this process is there’s a roadmap for consultation if anything of archeological significance is found, and outlines where the pieces should ultimately end up.

“If it is a Ktunaxa artifact or other First Nation in the area, it is kept in a museum repository in Cranbrook or sent to the applicable nation with known history in the area.”

Dumping stations: ‘I think it will ultimately need bigger players’

Having now read the document, Newell believes it represents a sizeable step in the right direction but now the issues involved need to be brought to the attention of higher-ups.

“I like the fact that now people know one document has everything in it. We know how many regulations are applied to this body of water, we know the thought was there to form these rules and regulations and guiding principles, now we have something to put pressure on applicable agencies to work on enforcement,” he said.

Newell’s constituents’ number-one concern is about maintaining public access to the lake, and he routinely hears about the lack of suitable boat launches and the dearth of dumping stations — an issue he’s been working to address, as they’re aiming to install one near the Prestige Lakeside Resort in Nelson within a year.

“That’s an extremely complex issue. It’s been tried and failed, grant money has been issued and groups haven’t been able to manifest it.

“I think it will ultimately need bigger players than regional government, I think the province and the federal government, they need to step up.”

In dealing with shoreline management issues, Newell has often found the problem boils down to communication.

“I have not found a situation where our staff or the provincial agencies, where they’re purposely trying to block something. Often it’s a misunderstanding at the start that starts snowballing.”

The key thing, for him: “Just because you own a piece of property doesn’t mean you can do what you want with it.”

For more information and to access the full shoreline guidance document visit

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