Blue-green algae on Elk/Beaver Lake. Photo taken in 2013. Black Press File.

Blue-green algae blooms could sink bid to host national rowing centre in Saanich

Rowing Canada Aviron has expressed concern about excessive weed growth on Elk/Beaver Lake.

Saanich hopes to become a national training site for rowers representing Canada, but environmental and regulatory concerns could sink the bid.

The Victoria City Rowing Club (VCRC) could find out later this fall if Rowing Canada Aviron, Canada’s national rowing body, will choose the training site at Elk/Beaver Lake Lake Regional Park as the home base for the national training program.

RELATED: Saanich’s Elk/Beaver Lake to undergo remediation

The national centre would open in 2020 and run at least until 2032 if the Rowing Canada Aviron were to choose the Saanich site, which already hosts national, Olympic and Para-Olympic athletes. Other users include Victoria City Rowing Club, the University of Victoria Rowing Team, and the Greater Victoria Youth Rowing Society.

But issues remain. While VCRC’s bid has made the shortlist, Rowing Canada has expressed concern with weed growth.

Elk/Beaver Lake has a history of blue-green algae blooms, whose frequency has increased in recent years, according to a report from the Capital Regional District (CRD).

“More targeted weed removal may be required to ensure the larger 2 km course remains free of weed growth,” it reads.

Regional authorities currently operate a weed harvester, which the report claims “has been effective in controlling weed growth.”

But the environmental state of Elk/Beaver Lake caught the attention of Rowing Canada Aviron, as the region stands to lose a yet-to-be-determined amount of additional spending in the form of salaries, programming, athlete support and operations. A recent report recently warned of this very scenario.

RELATED: CRD steps up efforts to improve Elk/Beaver Lake water quality

(VCRC pays the CRD an annual lease of $6,000 and spends more than 50,000 annually to cover maintenance and facility upgrades).

Other obstacles remain. If the VCRC were to receive the winning bid, it may end up expanding its current facilities by at least 25 per cent. Such a revision would require public consultation and changes to the Elk/Beaver Lake management. It calls for a range of uses and public feedback has so far not gone beyond local representatives of the fishing community.

The terms of the bid call on VCRC to establish what the CRD calls “priority usage” with the hitch that fulfillment of this condition would require changes to federal regulations.

“Should Rowing Canada Aviron require a change to federal regulations to establish priority use, [VCRC] would need to initiate an extensive public consultation process,” it reads. “As the management plan identifies areas and hours of use, any changes would require an amendment to the management plan.”

In short, VCRC’s bid, which also involves Electoral Area B – Shawnigan Lake in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, is not yet in safe harbour.

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