Triathlete raising safety concerns over Beaver Lake

California couple contend high E-coli count at Saanich lake ahead of triathlon

The ongoing health of Elk and Beaver lakes is of concern for triathletes ahead of Saanich’s second major triathlon of the summer, the July 31 Self Transcendence race.

A California couple who visited in June for the Ironman 70.3 triathlon pulled out of the event due to complications they believe stemmed from a ‘pre-swim’ the weekend of the event.

This year’s Ironman 70.3 started with a 1.9-kilometre open water swim through Beaver Lake, though the event was based on Elk Lake in the past. The lake’s health is crucial for the annual Ironman 70.3 triathlon which fields about 1,500 competitors and draws an estimated $5 million to Saanich and Greater Victoria.

Brenda Gilchrist and her husband travelled to Saanich from Santa Rosa, Calif., for the June 12 event, but decided not to race because of the E.Coli count that week.

Gilchrist admitted to being “extra cautious” because her husband almost died after contracting a serious infection from swimming in fresh water six years ago in Costa Rica. They had originally assumed the Victoria Ironman 70.3 would involve an ocean swim.

“We did a pre-swim in Beaver Lake, but after 10 minutes, quickly got out of the water, fearful of what kind of bacteria may be in it,” said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist and her husband had stomach cramps within 24 hours. She also developed an earache within a couple of days as well, and didn’t want to take any chances, assuming it was likely from the lake.

“I was really sad making the decision to opt out on race day morning,” said Gilchrist, who stayed and watched the race instead.

Kellie Hudson, manager of media relations for Island Health, said there are no current problems with the water quality at Elk Lake, as the water quality is checked every week. Island Health did post a caution on June 14 for Beaver Lake that is believed to have resulted from an increase in ducks and geese activity coupled with a rainfall. As of Friday it was under a yellow caution advisory after a sample check last week.

Both lakes are checked every week because of their popularity and high usage, Hudson added.

Sumitra McMurchy, 88, has been involved in the Self Transcendence Triathlon since 1981 and has no record of E-Coli ever causing a cancellation. However, there was a close call in 2011, when an Island Health water warning was lifted the very weekend of the annual Self Transcendence race. In that case, the triathlon would be adapted to a duathlon (run, bike, run).

The Self Transcendence is believed to be the longest running triathlon in Canada and also generates an economic impact on the region, though not to the level of the Ironman 70.3. With cooler July temperatures this year, race organizers for the Self Transcendence do not believe the water quality will be a threat.

Glenn Harris, senior manager of environmental protection management for the Capital Regional District, said work is underway on a watershed management plan to address water quality issues throughout the CRD. That includes a committee-led initiative to restore the health of Beaver and Elk lakes.

This year the CRD approved the purchase of a $200,000 harvester to pull invasive weeds out of Beaver and Elk Lake.

Island Health Authority provides local beach advisories at http://www.viha.ca/mho/recreation/beach_reports.htm.

 

news@saanichnews.com