Friday, February 8, 2013

What to do about Mannion Bay

If you look at a map of Bowen you'll see a big bite taken out of the Eastern side of the island. That bay is called Mannion Bay, named for one of the original settlers of Bowen Island, Joseph Mannion. It's a beautiful looking body of water, a protected bay looking across the Queen Charlotte Cannel to the Brittania Mountains on the continent. It's protected nature makes it a good place to paddleboard, especially in the winter when the winds and swell can be unpredictable in more exposed parts of the island.

There are three beaches on Mannion Bay, Sandy Beach, Mothers Beach and Pebbly Beach. These are our neighborhood beaches, used by local residents especially in the summer. And because the bay is protected, it is used as a free moorage by boat owners. There are three live aboard residents in the bay, several boats moored there over the winter, many more who arrive there on weekends in the summer and several other boats that are abandoned.

There are several issues in the bay, and they have been increasing over the years. The beaches are often unsafe for swimming due to fecal Coliform counts in the summer. There are a number of shipwrecks in the bay which over the years have leeched oil and battery chemicals into the seabed. There is literally tons of debris on the floor of the bay, some of it toxic, some of it just dangerous to shipping. Sandy Beach currently has a boat wrecked on the shore.

As I am a water user of the Bay, (and often floating in it as a paddle boarder) I have been interested in these issues over the years. I've learned that there are a number of causes for the deteriorating condition of the bay. These include:

  • Improper or illegal activity by boaters, including dumping garbage or improper waste disposal.
  • Abandonment of boats by owners who can't afford them anymore. These boats are ripped from their moorings during storms and sink or wash up on shore and then leach chemicals and debris into the bay.
  • improper septic systems for the properties surrounding the bay. Many of these systems are legacy systems from the time before there were proper health standards. I have no idea how many septic systems need upgrading or repairing but it is significant. The water quality in the is primarily impacted by this issue.
A group of people have banded together to do something about the boat problem and they have been very active in recruiting our local MP into the fray. The group is spearheaded by the indomitable Bruce Russell who is a guy that is undaunted by obstacles, I have no doubt as long as he is involved there will be a resolution to the boat issue. The group Friends of Mannion Bay has tackled the problem of enforcing the complex regulatory environment that applies to boats and private marine property.  Today there was a letter in the Undercurrent about their efforts.

While I applaud these efforts, and especially Bruce's efforts to rally all the affected folks together - although I notice that the live aboards are not listed as being included in the Friends of the Bay and i hope he can reach out to them as collaborators instead of targets - one of the biggest concerns remains, and that is the septic problem in the watershed. The boating problem is a big part of the work that needs to be done, and I'm glad local property owners (of which I am one) are working together. But we also have a responsibility to the Bay. I have one of the few septic systems in my whole neighborhood that is up to code. There are a few other newer properties along Miller Road that also have up to code systems in good repair,

But many of the properties directly on the Bay or above the roads around the bay are having problems with their septic systems. To date I know of no study that has documented the state of the septic systems around the Bay, but I think we need that, for all of us whose fields drain into the water. While that is a municipal and provincial responsibility and the state of the water in the Bay is a federal responsibility, I wonder whether several levels of government can collaborate with property owners to do a proper assessment.

Solving the boating problems will take care of a large part of the issue and it's easier, because it is "out there.". What is harder is taking a look at ourselves and taking responsibility for how we contribute to the problem too.