Swimmergets entangled in milfoil
West Kelowna man comes close to drowning in Okanagan Lake.
BARRY GERDING, Thu Aug 10th, 2017 6:00am
What was intended to be a refreshing swim in Okanagan Laketurned into a near-death experience for a West Kelowna man.
Sandy Baldwin said he was swimming toward City Park, about30 feet from the beach in water 10 to 15 feet deep, when he was tangled inmilfoil weeds.
“It was quite scary in the moment because I wasn’t expectingit,” Baldwin said. “Your body gets wrapped up in the weeds and the harder youinitially try to swim, the more entangled you get. I had to kind of stop myselfand just slow down enough to think about what I needed to do. But you startthinking in that moment of panic about your kids and stuff … will anyone see mein trouble and what about my bike?”
Baldwin was in the midst of a 20 kilometre bike ride when hedecided to stop for a dip.
“I kayak a lot so I am used to seeing milfoil in the waterbut I was surprised to come across it so close to the shore,” said Baldwin,noting it got him to thinking how a child could get stuck like he did and howwould they get out.
“The milfoil didn’t leave a scratch on me but as I wasswimming it would wrap around my legs each time I kicked. I switched over doinga swim crawl to doing a breaststroke to get through it.”
After getting back to shore, Baldwin looked back to the lakeand could see the milfoil. While he was in the water, however, it wascamoflaged.
Baldwin reported the incident to City of Kelowna staff andJames Littley, operations and grant manager for the Okanagan Basin Water Boardwho oversees the region’s milfoil harvesting program responded.
Littley told Baldwin that milfoil control treatments arecarried out along the north-south length of Hot Sands Beach in the winter byderooting the weed with a rototiller, but the environment treatment permitdon’t extend to the area where Baldwin was swimming.
“We also have no ability to treat weeds in that area in thesummer, as there is no access for our large trucks to remove the weeds oncethey are piled on the beach,” Littley said in a letter to Baldwin.
“We are working with the province on extending ourenvironmental permits to allow us more flexibility to respond to areas thatneed treatment, but we are currently limited.”
Both invasive and native weeds are widespread throughoutOkanagan Valley lakes, a problem made worse by climate change, and do pose insome areas a nuisance and hazard to recreation use.
A cold winter leading into a wet spring has presented ascheduling setback for milfoil harvesting. Winter derooting is considered themost effective control method because the weeds are dormant and won’t re-root.
“Areas that we would normally get to in the beginning ofJuly are getting treatment now in the beginning of August because the highwater mark made some of those areas inaccessible for launching our machines.”
The rising lake levels brought along the problem of debris,both posing a risk to milfoil control machines by cutting the harvesting teethand submerging weeds that become suddenly very visible as the water level dropsforming dense weed mats on the surface of the water.
Despite the delay, Littley said complaints about weed growthin the area lakes are on a par with past years.
The OBWB will organize for dump truck loads to be dropped ata yard or orchard if near a harvesting site, or tell people where they can pickup milfoil piled up on a beach for disposal. Call 250-469-6270.