The crew of the Kelowna Fire Department’s rescue boat were on hand Friday to help promote national Safe Boating Week, urging boaters to wear life jackets, be prepared and carry all the required safety equipment. The crew, based out of the No. 2 fire hall downtown, includes (left to right) firefighters Rob Mudge, Glenn Bonkowski, Capt. Todd Johnston and Mathew Kinnear.—Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Safe Boating Week kicks off amid flood worries on Okanagan Lake

West Kelowna not opening boat launches for the long weekend and a warning about debris in the lake.

Due to extraordinarily high Okanagan Lake levels, the damage that watercraft wakes can cause to properties, and to protect anti-flood measures installed along the shore, the City of West Kelowna is not re-opening its boat launches for the Victoria Day long weekend as originally announced.

The city said Friday it is closing its boat launches. A number of waterfront parks have also been closed; and, sand and sandbag locations have been restocked as part of West Kelowna’s ongoing flood protection response.

Effective immediately, and until further notice, the boat launches at Gellatly Bay and in Casa Loma have been closed to recreational use. The city of West Kelowna will reopen the launches when lake levels have subsided and the threat of property damage from boat wakes has abated. Patrol officers will remain available on site to open the Gellatly launch for emergency and commercial uses and for residents who need to get their boats off the lake.

With national safe-boating week kicking off Friday here, anyone who is planning to go out on the lake is being warned to not only carry life jackets on board—as it is the law— but also wear them.

Clark Berry, education officer for the Kelowna branch of the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron, said every year boaters loose their lives as a result of not wearing a life jacket . He said in addition to promoting the wearing of life jackets through the ‘We Wear It’ campaign, other safety measures include not drinking alcohol and driving a boat, taking a boating safety course, being properly prepared and having the required equipment on board. All the information is available in Transport Canada’s Safe Boating Guide or at boatingsafety.gc.ca.

He also urged anyone who is out on the lake to be extra vigilant because of the debris that could be floating just under the surface of the water.

Until further notice, a number of West Kelowna parks will also remain closed due to the flood threat caused by steadily rising lake levels and to ensure the preservation of protective measures that have been installed along the shoreline.

Closures are in effect at:

• Pritchard Park

• Pebbles Beach

• Waterfront portion of the Gellatly Beach access

• Marina Park

• Aberdeen Park

• Jennens Beach Access

The city has installed sandbag walls at a further 27 beach accesses. At these locations, visitors are asked to stay clear of the walls and keep to the upland side of them to prevent the protective barriers from being damaged or moved.

The public is reminded not to tamper with existing berms and bladder dams or remove sandbags that have already been installed to protect existing infrastructure and public properties.

Residents in West Kelowna and on Westbank First Nation land who need sand and sandbags can get them free of charge, at the following locations:

· Casa Loma; 2606 and 2714 Casa Loma Road

· 515 Highway 97 South (WFN Government Building), right of the main parking lot

· Green Bay; 1341 Green Bay Road, Osprey Park and at the Wiig Road cul-de-sac

· Pritchard; 1651 Pritchard Drive

· Hitchner/Jennens; 4081 Hitchner Road

· Across from the WFN Works and Utilities yard at the intersection of Cougar and Elk Roads (approximate address 3500 Red Cloud Way)

· Gellatly Bay; 2589 Whitworth Road near Pebble Beach Park

Residents are strongly encouraged to take proactive measures to protect their own properties as civic crews continue to focus on installing measures to protect essential public infrastructure. And those residents who have taken steps to protect their properties from flooding are reminded to leave measures in place and to keep all debris on beaches. Debris will cushion against waves and reduce erosion.

Meanwhile, the local emergency operations centre says while boating is not recommended this weekend, boaters choosing to access Okanagan Lake are urged to avoid several areas at risk due to high water and wave action.

Boaters are asked to to avoid the following locations:

Peachland:

• The entire Peachland downtown waterfront, specifically, Heritage Park to Buchanan.

• All day-use docks and wharfs, which are closed.

• The Princeton boat launch, which is also closed.

West Kelowna:

• Green Bay area

• Casa Loma area

• Pritchard Drive area

• Whitworth Road area

Lake Country:

• Tween Lakes (canal) and entire Oyama isthmus area

• Carrs Landing

• Okanagan Centre

• Turtle Bay

Westside Road (regional district area):

• Wilson’s Landing

• Fintry area

• Killiney Beach area

Kelowna:

• The entire city waterfront between Poplar Point and Cedar Creek

Boating is also not recommended due to unsafe conditions resulting from flooding and high water levels. Flooding has deposited significant amounts of debris in Okanagan Lake, including large trees and branches, swept down fast-moving, higher-than-normal creeks, making navigation on the lake hazardous.

Local EOS officials say boat wakes can have significant impact on vulnerable properties and signs is being posted at boat launches and shared with private moorage organizations encouraging boaters to go slow and avoid causing wakes, particularly close to shore.

Boat Safety:

Boaters are reminded they can be fined for operating power-boat faster than 10kilometres-per-hour within 30 metres of the shore. Boaters who disregard safety notifications can be also be fined.

The RCMP has said it plans to be out on the lake this long weekend monitoring boaters and vulnerable areas.

Municipal and public safety crews are also continuing to install flood mitigation, including sand bag walls, bladder dams and gabion barriers in many vulnerable locations and the public is being asked not to touch them for their own safety and to ensure the continued protection of community infrastructure and property. Parents are also being urged to keep their children off the lengths of bladder dams, long water-filled plastic pipes used to hold back the water.

Debris washed up on beaches should be left for the time being. Please do not remove logs and other wood material as it helps limit erosion caused by wave action. When the flood risk has passed, officials will provide notification of how the beach debris will be removed.

For current information on the status of boat launches, waterfront park and beach closures, please refer to local government websites (links below).

Emergency Support Services will be closed from Saturday, May 20 to Monday, May 23, reopening on Tuesday, May 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For urgent support service matters please call 250-469-8490.

Find information on flood preparation, including sand and sandbag locations, how to effectively build sandbag walls and secure docks at cordemergency.ca/beprepared.