Owner Kevin Aschhoff of Oceantech Scuba will be leading group of divers in Sunday’s cleanup of the Okanagan River Channel from Green Mountain Road to the channel bridge at Skaha Lake. Mark Brett/Western News

Taking the plunge to clean up the channel

Scuba divers and other volunteers will be working to cleanup the Okanagan River Channel

The Okanagan River Channel is getting a makeover from top to bottom this Sunday (Sept. 17).

A large group of volunteers including a number of scuba divers, led by Kevin Aschhoff of Oceantech Scuba, will be scouring the waters and banks, which in 2016 yielded 275 kilograms of debris.

The cleanup was first started a number of years ago by former Salty’s Beach House restaurant owner, the late Rob Wylie.

“Rob was always big on it (channel cleanup) and he was a good friend of mine but after his death nobody took up the reins so I decided to and last year was our first official year,” said organizer Debra Williams of The Pasta Factory, one of the sponsoring businesses. “The channel is sort of a weird entity that nobody takes ownership of, it’s kind of a free for all, the wild, wild west of waterways.”

She is still amazed at what was retrieved from the channel last year.

“We pulled out rolls of carpet, we pulled out bikes, we pulled out shopping carts and the Variety Club Telethon had a donation cylinder that had been stolen earlier in the year and we found that,” said Williams. “We even found a GoPro (camera) that was in a watertight case and one of the divers charged it up and put it on Facebook and they found the owners.”

Cans and bottles are among the most prevalent items with a vast array of other objects including rings, car keys, sunglasses, deflated floaties and wallets.

With the support of a number of local businesses, about 60 volunteers spent the better part of a day doing the work last year.

“For some of us in hospitality the waterways are how we make our money right? The wineries and the waters are the reasons we get our tourists, so the least thing we can do is take care of the things that take care of us,” said Williams. “It’s nice that we can take a bit of pride knowing that when the tourists show up again next spring they’re not going through a big garbage dump.”

According to Aschhoff, he has no trouble recruiting divers to lend a hand.

“We just put out a call and word gets around,” he said. “Divers are inherently concerned about our waterways and oceans, so it doesn’t take much to motivate them to get out here and help clean up.

There is the added incentive of the underwater “treasure hunt” atmosphere.

“People take some funny things down the channel,” he said with a laugh.

And, to him and many others, there is the environmental impact of the garbage.

“Our lakes are our lifeline here, so the cleaner the lakes are the better off we are. It’s an all around benefit to everybody,” said Aschhoff. “We also don’t want any toxic stuff leaching into our waters getting into our fish and water systems because ultimately, it all ends up back in our systems.”

He was also contacted earlier in the year by members of the RCMP dive team who expressed an interest in taking part, although that has not been confirmed as yet.

The clean up will take place from Green Mountain Road to the channel bridge at Skaha Lake. Volunteers are to meet at 10 a.m. at the bridge parking lot where they will be bussed to Green Mountain Road and work their way back.

“There is another group that will be working further north planting and cleaning up along the banks that day as well, so it’s going to be a full day of channel happiness,” said Williams who is encouraging as many people as possible to come out and help.

In addition to Oceantech and The Pasta Factory, other sponsors include: the Penticton Indian Band, Underwriters Insurance, Appleton Waste, Coyote Cruises, Tugs Tap House, Boston Pizza, Tim Hortons, Pier Water Sports, Mission Hill and Sherwood Trophies.

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