Rowing helps clean up Canada’s Burnaby Lake
In 2014 Burnaby Lake will host the Canadian Masters Championships, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Due to human impact, Burnaby Lake had become unfit to hold rowing competitions, and worse, it had undergone severe environmental degradation.
Land development including construction of housing within the Burnaby Lake watershed caused the accumulation of sediment in the lake while stormwater runoff from surrounding roads introduced contaminants which threatened water quality and marine life. The rowing community acted to protect and improve the environment of their rowing venue.
“It was the rowing community that actually initiated the (restoration) project and the city then got on board and conducted the required environmental assessments. We worked in partnership - with us as the volunteers and with their professional staff,” said Tricia Smith, FISA Executive Committee member. ”We did considerable political lobbying to secure the necessary local and provincial funding.”
In the late 1990s the City of Burnaby conducted environmental studies that revealed the extent of the environmental damage. The sediment was contaminated with toxic material that reached levels above the British Columbia Sediment Quality Guidelines which in turn contributed to contamination of the water. The studies also recorded low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, a key measure of the health of the ecosystem. Low levels of oxygen make it very difficult for marine life to survive and throw off the balance of the entire ecosystem.
It was clear from the environmental assessment that something had to be done. Three levels of dredging were proposed, two of which would make it possible to hold rowing competitions at Burnaby Lake, while the third would remove just the top layer of sediment but would not be deep enough for rowing competitions. The priority was to have a positive environmental impact, but what would this mean for the rowers?
The test dredge and assessment completed in 2002 came as good news to the rowing community. Maximum dredging would not only have the greatest positive impact on the environment, it would also mean Burnaby Lake would comply with international standards for rowing course depth. While it took another nine years before a competition was actually held on the course, plans were underway.
Throughout the duration of the dredging project, the city closely monitored any possible negative environmental impact. Concerns were raised in 2009 about the painted turtle, a species designated as one of special concern in BC, which lives in the muddy water at the bottom of the lake. “Experiments included the use of side scanning sonar and ground penetrating radar to locate the turtles that may have been hibernating in the muddy bottom of the lake,” says Bruce Ford, Senior Environmental Biologist and member of the FISA Environmental Working Group. Captured turtles were also fitted with radio transmitters to track their movements. These technologies allowed biologists and environmentalists to closely monitor the turtles and disturb their habitat as little as possible.
The dredging concluded in 2011 and since then the lake has hosted canoe, kayak and rowing events for all ages. But the work is not finished.
The city and the rowing club continue with vegetation management as well as the rebuilding of facilities on the shore. For now, the rowing community is content to have accomplished this environmental clean-up and have a rowing course with clean water.
Burnaby Lake exemplifies how rowers can get involved with local government to help improve the waterways that are so vital to the sport. Rowers are in the perfect position to care for and positively impact their training facilities.
For more information on how to make your boathouse greener and cleaner, or to share your story of positive environmental impact visit – www.worldrowing.com/environment