Are microplastics polluting Okanagan Lake?

Microplastics in the lake?

Are microplastics polluting Okanagan Lake?

That's a question researchers with FreshWater Life will try to answer this year with funding from the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

The OBWB this week awarded 16 grants worth $350,000 to Okanagan non-profits, local governments and irrigation districts.

The study in partnership with the City of Kelowna will sample water to determine if microplastics are present in the lake, and if they are, if wastewater is to blame and create solutions to the problem.

At this point, there is no published data on microplastics in Okanagan Lake and researchers believe they are inadvertently being discharged into the body of water, like many parts of the world. Microplastics are defined as smaller than five millimeters in length and can be found in anything from clothing to cosmetics.

“The public has become increasingly aware of plastic pollution, especially in the ocean, but are less aware of microplastics and even less so in freshwater,” said James Littley, OBWB’s operations and grants manager.

“This project will help us develop a baseline understanding of the issue, how it affects our lives, our drinking water and the environment in the Okanagan, and develop a response as needed.”

Other projects funded this year by the OBWV include on-the-ground restoration efforts, water monitoring, public outreach, and more.

One such project is “A Syilx siw?k? (water) Story: A Rail Trail signage journey” is to be led by the Okanagan Nation Alliance. The project involves the installation of signs along the Okanagan Rail Trail using key messages originally created for the 2016 Social Life of Water travelling exhibit which was featured in museums throughout the valley.

A third project is a pilot project to identify drinking water protection areas by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS). Currently, there are 190 water systems (groundwater, lake, creek and river sources) in RDOS alone. The project will identify wells and intakes and define drinking water protection areas.

This will help water providers improve potential emergency responses, and ensure the public, developers, government staff and others are better informed before working in these areas. This project will also be available as a template for mapping efforts in other regions. “Ultimately the intention is to identify water sources and protect water quality in our valley,” added Littley.

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