Star Gulch not a swimming hole says Rossland Stewardship Society

A summary of the responses from the Rossland Stewardship Society to the presentation to decommission Star Gulch water reservoir.

Editor’s note: The following letter references a request made by Erik Kalacis to city council during their public input period at their committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 18.

Kalacis requested council go forward with the Star Gulch reservoir project and that it be made into a public swimming beach.

“Kalacis stated that swimming in a lake or river is rated number two as the favorite activity in British Columbia, and as the number one activity residents enjoy in the Kootenay/Rockies area,” according to meeting minutes.

To the Editor:

RSS opinions regarding Star Gulch Swimming:

The following is a summary of the 30 responses from members of the Rossland Stewardship Society to the presentation by Erik Kalacis to decommission Rossland’s Star Gulch water reservoir (the older one, containing 43 per cent of storage capacity) and convert it to a swimming lake.

This would leave the Ophir reservoir as Rossland’s sole source for drinking water. Unfortunately, it also means doing without the water supplied by Topping Creek (intake elevation is 1,149 metres, above Star Gulch at 1,124 m., but below Ophir at 1,157 m.), a loss of a good third of catchment and a source which is least prone to freeze-up in winter. “Right now, all of Rossland uses Star Gulch. Ophir is waiting in the wings for the next building boom or a big forest fire.”

A few commented that more swimming opportunities would be welcome (if done properly) and might possibly improve tourism. Others pointed the existence of equivalent opportunities at Nancy Greene, Christina, Kootenay and Arrow Lakes plus the Rossland, Warfield and Trail pools. All of these would have longer seasons because of the highly shaded nature of the Star Gulch valley.

Most condemned the idea that this reservoir could continue to serve as a water storage facility while serving as a swimming lake. To paraphrase one, “(they were) uncomfortable with the concept of people and pets swimming in our drinking water. It leaves the city relying entirely on the water treatment (not purification) plant’s natural processes to break down some of the pathogens … (it has never failed yet) and the Titanic was unsinkable … it’s unwise to increase the load.“

Someone asked, “Isn’t Erik Kalacis something to do with Red Mountain?” (it turns out he is vice president of business development, according to LinkedIn), and several expressed concern that this project might be a stealth effort to free up the Topping Creek watershed from restrictions and/or shift the capital cost repayment for the Ophir reservoir’s construction from the development (which it was built to serve) back onto all the taxpayers of Rossland as a whole.

One suggested that the principals of Red Mountain Resort might offer “an agreement that Red would not use this as an excuse to get out of some liabilities.”

Several made comments such as, “we fought hard to protect our watershed from the proposed golf course, only to consider reducing our water source by eliminating one of our reservoirs,” or expressed concerns that Rossland would ultimately need all of its water supply resources for domestic water if climate change continues.

The practical considerations for such a use of Star Gulch would require the construction of washrooms (and connections to both water supply and sewer) and the importation of a large quantity of sand—plausibly at the north end only.

Parking would have to be created and there would be operating costs for lifeguards, etc. Some water would still have to flow to Star Gulch to keep it from becoming stagnant—this would then be wasted as unusable.

That said, why not consider instead the proposal developed by the Rossland-Red Mountain Development Society in the 1980’s to develop a lake west of the Dunn Avenue causeway in the Trail Creek valley.

The plan was to seal the causeway’s face with clay and protect it with riprap. Black muck would be removed from the valley and traded for trucked-in sand. WKP (FortisBC) even moved their poles out of the way.

The smaller lake (one eighth of Star Gulch) is in a sunny valley and would warm for pleasant swimming. This proposal is closer to town, has sufficient natural flow for freshening and lies right next to the Lions campground. It would likely be a cheaper and more effective tourism amenity. The costs then were estimated at $300-500,000.

Many asked for a full report on the tax ramifications. It will be a good test to see what sort of report comes forward from our newly diminished staff. Priorities for spending scarce capital are a consideration.

There must be justification for the expenditure of taxes on a short season facility that duplicates existing facilities. It should also address the implications of a project that, once approved and put into action, would be very difficult to reverse.

And finally, a wise comment, “Swimming is fun, but we can live without it. We cannot live without drinking water. “

W F Micklethwaite, secretary,

Rossland Stewardship Society