Call for return of lifeguards to Thetis Lake rejected by CRD committee

Call for return of lifeguards to Thetis Lake rejected by CRD committee

A warning sign for a dropoff at Thetis Lake seen on June 27, 2017.

View Royal’s mayor is asking the Capital Regional District to reconsider its park committee’s decision to not reinstate lifeguards at Thetis Lake.

On Wednesday, members of the Capital Regional District’s parks committee accepted staff recommendations to focus on signage and public information on the CRD website, rather than bring back lifeguards.

“They decided to keep the status quo,” View Royal Mayor David Screech said.

“I am disappointed in the parks committee recommendation and I’m hoping when it comes to the full CRD board that perhaps we can have a more fulsome discussion and identify some solutions.

The View Royal council wrote to the Capital Regional District (CRD), asking them to bring lifeguards back to Thetis Lake after serious incidents over the summer.

On July 5, a woman slipped and fell from the Sunnyside cliffs, suffering serious injuries. She was saved by others in the water.

Two boys were also saved by bystanders after nearly drowning on June 27.

Screech said at the meeting that the council wasn’t asking for lifeguards in different areas.

“We were asking for the main beach and our certainly our council still think it’s important to do that,” Screech said on Wednesday.

“There have been drownings within metres of the main beach, because of the drop-off and they were ESL students who can’t read the signs.”

On Thursday, Screech said the council had been asking for one lifeguard at the main beach all along.

I think there’s a little bit of confusion about what we were asking for and what staff were asking for as well,” Screech said.

“I think staff is trying to cover off all of the issues, which are the cliffs and people swimming to the island. We’re more than aware of all those difficulties but our main concern has definitely been having a presence on the beach,” Screech said.

Screech also spoke to some of the problems in the park, including underage drinking and cliff jumping incidents that have been alcohol-related.

According to the staff report, the use of lifeguards at Thetis Lake, as well as Elk and Beaver Lake, was discontinued in 2003. The lifeguards were stationed at the main beach at Thetis Lake and Beaver Beach at Elk/Beaver Lake. Services were discontinued due to budgetary pressures, challenges in recruiting qualified lifeguards and the overall trend toward removing lifeguard services from waterfronts in other municipalities.

CRD taff said in the report that since 1999, five people drowned at Thetis Lake, including two people in 2004, one in 2006 and one in 2013. There have been three serious incidents involving four people in Thetis Lake, including the ones that occurred over the summer. The other incident took place in 2014 when one person was injured while cliff jumping.

The report noted that there are at least eight places around the perimeter of Thetis Lake where swimmers enter the water.

Screech said having a physical presence at the beach lends some authority.

“It would be someone that would be presumably talking to people about safety,” Screech said.

“One of the drownings four years ago was within 20 feet of the main beach and so clearly in that sort of incident, a lifeguard would have been helpful. I just think all around that there needs to be a presence in that area during the summer. And whether or not they stay stuck to the beach all day or wander around and talk to people who are jumping off the cliffs.

CRD staff also said that lack of proficiency in English and unfamiliarity with common hazards in B.C. lakes are factors to consider. According to the report, three of the five people who drowned at the lake since 1999, and all four of the people involved in serious incidents between 2014 and 2017, were international visitors with “limited knowledge of the English language.

“I don’t think the status quo is acceptable for it to not change at all,” Screech said.

CRD chairwoman Barb Desjardins said she supported the motion since many of the recent incidents did not occur near the main beach area and asked if staff could do some patrol in the area.

The CRD estimated that the cost of providing lifeguards seven days a week during the summer season would be $75,000 per beach, with $68,000 for salaries and $7,000 for equipment and training.
The report said at Thetis Lake Regional Park, a minimum of three lifeguards would be required in the shoulder season (salary cost: $28,000) and six lifeguards would be required in July/August (salary cost: $40,000). Ongoing annual costs would be $70,000.”

According to Screech, the cost would be less if just the one lifeguard that the View Royal council requested was hired.

“And that to me is just a real good investment all the way around,” Screech said.

Screech said the CRD board will vote whether to approve the parks committee’s recommendation on Oct. 11.

“Perhaps we can have a more fulsome discussion and identify some solutions,” Screech said.

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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