It’s often said water is our most precious resource, which is why North Salt Spring Waterworks District concerns about recreational use of Maxwell Lake watershed lands should be taken seriously.
It might be hard to see how use of a forested area by a couple of people, swimmers, bicycles or horses can have a discernible negative impact, but as with many such activities, the little things add up. When the soil and vegetation cover is disturbed, receiving streams and the lake are impacted. That can lead to the need for more water treatment and higher costs. The biggest concern, however, is that a human-caused fire will be started in the watershed, which would have a deleterious effect on Maxwell Lake water quality.
NSSWD staff and trustees feel they have done everything possible over the years, within reason, to educate people about the need to not use the area for recreational purposes. Some 480 metres (1,575 feet) of wire fencing is in place. A security service is contracted each summer to patrol the area. Signage is plentiful and advertising about the issue occurs every year.
But some people are determined to access the watershed lands regardless. Fencing has been cut and boulders removed, and a trail that had been decommissioned by the NSSWD and Salt Spring Island Conservancy was returned to use. Just last week, fresh bicycle tire tracks were obvious in the mud.
The community and NSSWD ratepayers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the property way back in 2001 for the purpose of protecting the watershed and water quality. Use of the land was limited by a covenant held by the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, so that covenant is violated whenever trespassing occurs.
Hikers have numerous trail choices on Salt Spring; mountain bikers admittedly fewer. At least an effort is underway to develop bike trails in other places, notably the non-watershed lands at Channel Ridge with cooperation from the Parks and Recreation Commission, which is something that should be supported.
For the sake of Maxwell Lake and its water we consume, though, the entire community needs to understand and accept that the area is off limits for good reasons.