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Thetis and Elk lakes to get life rings, life-jackets

But no lifeguards are planned for the popular swimming lakes, since the cost is estimated at more than $270,000 per lake
The main beach at Thetis Lake. The lake saw three drownings from 2016 to 2023. A blue-green algae bloom advisory was issued on July 8 for Thetis Lake, Beaver Lake and Elk Lake, advising people and their pets to avoid contact with the bloom in lake waters because it can cause illness. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The CRD has green-lit a pilot program to place life-jackets and life rings — but not lifeguards — at ­Thetis and Elk lakes this summer and to increase water-safety education.

The safety equipment will be installed at the main beach at Thetis Lake and at Hamsterly Beach at Elk Lake by July 19. The pilot program will be evaluated when the summer swimming season wraps up.

Lifeguards at Thetis and Elk lakes were discontinued in 2002-2003, but calls for their return have ramped up.

“These are two high-profile CRD lakes where there have been drowning incidents so they are the most important for us right now,” said CRD director and Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff. “I think it’s a good start.”

B.C. Emergency Health Services data show ambulance paramedics were called to 10 near-drownings at Elk/Beaver Lake and seven at Thetis Lake between 2014 and 2023. There were three drownings at Thetis from 2016 to 2023, including an international student who drowned on Sept. 29, 2023.

The CRD’s parks committee in late June discussed how to improve water safety in the 18 regional parks in the wake of the drowning death of a Belmont Secondary student at Langford Lake — which is not a CRD park — and the release of drowning statistics by the B.C. Coroners Service.

Last year saw 32 accidental drownings on Vancouver Island — a 10-year high and more than any other region in the province.

CRD staff recommended against reinstating lifeguards at the regional lakes, noting the Lifesaving Society estimates the cost of lifeguards per swimming lake from May through September to be more than $270,000.

That would add up to $1.3 million per summer season for the district’s top five most frequented swimming areas: Thetis Lake, Elk/Beaver Lake, Sooke Potholes, Durrance Lake and Matheson Lake. Staff said there’s nothing in the budget “that would cover this service.”

The regional district spends $35,000 annually on public education, pictorial signage and patrols by park rangers and bylaw officers at regional swimming lakes.

CRD staff say regional park rangers and bylaw officers work in conjunction with Westshore RCMP and View Royal Fire Department to maintain a strong presence at Thetis Lake and Elk/Beaver Lake, addressing problems such as alcohol and drug consumption and cliff jumping.

This summer, the Lifesaving Society’s Water Wise Team, with the support of CRD staff, is visiting key locations in regional parks to promote water safety.

Life rings purchased by business owner Ryan Oakley after Dequan Keron McKay’s drowning death at Langford Lake in June were recently installed by the City of Langford, which bought additional rings from the B.C. and Yukon Lifesaving Society and installed them at Scouts Point, Lake Park and Lake Point Park.

More life rings are expected to be installed at Florence Lake, Glen Lake Beach Park and Glen Cove.

Brownoff applauds Oakley’s move in Langford but she said the CRD will see how its pilot goes before installing the equipment at other regional swimming spots.

“Generally I believe water safety apparatus should be at most lakes where there have been incidents,” said Brownoff. “It’s not like it’s a big investment. One death is too many. I think we have to be proactive.”

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