Makeshift fountain

People view the water level of the children’s fishing pond in Southeast Kelowna on Thursday. The temporary fountain was shut off Friday until workers can reduce the chlorine content in the water, likely early next week.

Water is again flowing into a parched pond system that sustains trout, turtles and frogs, thanks to an East Kelowna neighbourhood raising alarms the wetland could disappear. 

The ponds in Mission Creek Park at the end of Hall Road, including a popular fishing hole for children and a downstream pond that’s home to western painted turtles, have been shrinking since their water source was shut off in March. The regional district and City of Kelowna initiated two projects Thursday in an emergency effort to forestall the deaths of turtles, fish and other wildlife by replenishing the ponds.

“It’s the best quick-and-dirty solution they can come up with today,” said Kim Pritchard, a mother of four who lobbied authorities to save the ecosystem. “I appreciate this.”

The regional district announced in April it plans to drill a well to restore the water supply by summer. Dismayed by how quickly the water levels dropped this month, officials asked the city to build a temporary system that now supplies drinking water to the fishing pond. Because it’s chlorinated and potentially harmful to animals, the water flows through a device containing a de-chlorinating chemical that renders the water safe. 

The same day, the regional district arranged to pump water uphill from Mission Creek along 300 metres of hose line through Mission Creek Park to the turtle pond. 

“We’re trying to do our best to get water into the ponds,” said Wayne Darlington, the regional district's manager of park planning. “It’s a bit of an effort here.” 

Until two months ago, the South East Kelowna Irrigation District filled the ponds with excess water from a fountain. After the city took over the SEKID supply to South and East Kelowna, it shut off the fountain and handed over responsibility to the regional district, which manages the park. 

Experts predicted that inflow from groundwater into the ponds would sustain them until the new well begins operating. Because the water levels have plummeted as much as a metre, the city agreed to help raise them without charging the regional district for labour or its water.  

“Those ponds don’t keep water in very well,” said Kevin Van Vliet, the city’s utility services manager. “We certainly don’t want to wear it as part of the SEKID project that we’ve killed the turtle pond and fish pond because we’ve implemented potable water in southeast Kelowna.”

Residents of the Hall Road area complained about what they feared was the gradual demise of a pristine habitat in an arid valley that’s lost most of its wetlands. Some phoned municipal officials and sent them photos of dead fish and turtles. Local MLA Steve Thomson contacted authorities and offered to help find a solution. 

Thursday, a city crew extended a pipe from an underground source next to the fishing pond to an above-ground baffle and attached a hose that carries domestic water to the de-chlorinating device. The liquid started gushing into the pond from a makeshift fountain about 1 p.m. 

Tests later revealed the chlorine level is too high, so workers temporarily shut off the supply Friday until the regional district resolves the issue. “Probably Monday or Tuesday,” said Van Vliet.     

Across the park at Mission Creek, regional district workers stretched a long hose from an unused water licence downstream from the EECO centre and activated two pumps to pull creek water over a height of land and spray it into the turtle pond.

“It’s a significant distance and elevation gain,” said Darlington. “We hope the flows will be similar to the SEKID volumes of the past.”          

The stopgap measures should be enough to maintain a water supply until the regional district selects a contractor to build a permanent well that supplies groundwater to the ponds by early July. Even so, the city can’t guarantee it will provide enough flow so the fishing pond reaches full pool by late June, Van Vliet said.

A lot depends on how much rain falls between now and then, he said. Another concern is the amount of water East Kelowna customers are consuming. Since the city started installing meters to gauge how much water each resident uses (SEKID charged a flat fee), staff are realizing the old pipes buried on private land are leaking — some of them heavily, Van Vliet said.

“We had one property that was leaking the equivalent of 40 homes (of) water. And that guy did not see it anywhere on his property. He fixed it. He was great but . . . we are a little nervous about when the hot weather comes and (residents) want to irrigate their lawns and the water demand goes up, that we can provide enough water.”

Still, the neighourhood is celebrating victory. Residents planned to hold a “turtle pond toast” at the pond Friday afternoon.  

“Bring your own turtle- or duck-themed beverage or just drive by and quack obnoxiously. We’re just happy for the ponds,” said Ruth King in a Facebook post.