Protecting the habitat around the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is a pressing issue.

Protecting the habitat around the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is a pressing issue.

Protecting our vital asset: Kootenay Lake

In 1986 some friends of mine were working in Nelson on the Steve Martin film Roxanne.

In 1986 some friends of mine were working in Nelson on the Steve Martin film Roxanne. I came to visit them during shooting and got to have lunch with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah (and about 50 other people). I also discovered Kootenay Lake.

My first sight of the lake completely thrilled me. As I spent time with her through her many moods, around the clock and through all kinds of weather, I quite literally fell in love. I dreamed of one day living here, close to this incredible lake, and four years later that dream came true.

So I’m very happy to be representing the City of Nelson at the Kootenay Lake Partnership (KLP). The KLP is made up of local, regional, provincial, federal and First Nations governments, and has been meeting since January 2010, with a mission of developing “integrated, collaborative approaches to lake management.” Really it’s about making sure that the health of the lake is maintained, so we can all continue to enjoy her clean water, fisheries, and all the cultural, social and economic benefits the lake provides.

The KLP is modeled after successful projects in the East Kootenay. In 2005, people became concerned about Lake Windermere, on whose shores the city of Invermere sits. Development pressure was leading to rapid shoreline degradation, a rise in invasive plants, and pollution from gas and sewage. The Lake Windermere Project conducted scientific studies, ran community engagement programs, protected critical lakeshore habitats, and created a lake management plan. The model was then extended to other East Kootenay lakes.

Kootenay Lake is experiencing a rapid increase in development. A 2009 analysis of the West Arm, from Cora Linn Dam to Balfour, including the City of Nelson, found significant increases in foreshore alteration, including docks, groynes (rock jetties) and retaining walls, all of which have negative impacts on fish habitat.

The land controlled by the City of Nelson is some of the most altered habitat on the lake. About half our waterfront is city-owned, and the other half privately held. Our current riparian development permit guidelines require any proposed construction within 15 metres (soon to be expanded to 30 metres) of any waterway be referred to the province and the feds for comment, with city planning staff making the final decision. In 2011 the province established a Map Reserve over Nelson’s waterfront which puts provincial approval of new structures within the water (docks, marinas) on hold.

This summer the KLP plans to complete foreshore inventories on the main lake. Then work will begin on a lake management plan, which will provide governments with standards and guidelines for foreshore development, as well as recommendations for improving the referral process. Sewage from homes and boats will also be addressed. A community engagement group, Friends of Kootenay Lake, is also forming.

Meanwhile, staff in our development services and sustainability department have been updating our Official Community Plan to integrate changes from the various new plans; a major task to be sure. That work is now largely completed and consultations with other governments, city commissions and community groups is getting underway. You can access the draft document, and submit comments via an online survey (including some specific questions about docks/marinas), at Watch for at least one open house in May, and a booth at the June 13 downtown market.

There are 92 changes being proposed and/or contemplated, and they will have long-term implications. There are 24 changes arising just from the integration of the Affordable Housing Strategy. Changes arising from the Low Carbon Path to 2040 address land use, transportation, buildings, energy supply (including micro-hydro development), solid waste and more. And, a specific open house on chickens in the city is also being contemplated. So please take the time to provide your thoughts. From the shores of Kootenay Lake to your own backyard, we are all stewards of the future.

Candace Batycki is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table