Snowmobile users beware: you could be driving through Whistler's drinking water.
Recent upgrades to roads up Sproatt Mountain, near Whistler Olympic Park, have made it easier for snowmobile users to access a Whistler watershed, which runs off Rainbow Mountain.
Much of the Sproatt area is open to snowmobile drivers. The problem is that the boundary with the Twenty One Mile Creek watershed, which provides 60 per cent of Whistler's tap water, is not marked.
Also, the watershed, which lies outside of the Resort Municipality of Whistler's boundary, is not policed.
While the number of snowmobile drivers using the Sproatt roads is unknown, Bryce Leigh from Whistler's Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee said anecdotally he counted 10 trucks in the area's parking lot last Friday, and 15 more on Sunday.
Leigh added: "Friday, I skied from Whistler Olympic Park, skied up through the trees... and as soon as I got to Hanging Lake, the whole area was tracked out.
"No where did it not have tracks on it."
To keep gas-driven vehicles out of the watershed, the provincial government has enlisted the help of the commercial snowmobile operator, Canadian Snowmobiles Inc., to put up signs that clearly designate the watershed boundary. The signs should be up by next winter.
"Installing signs that help educate the riders is a very good first step in reducing the number of snowmobiles in the watershed," said Caroline McAndrews, public affairs officer for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.
"Voluntary compliance is our goal."
But, if the signs don't work, McAndrews said the province will "look at ways to physically barrier the area."
Details of the physical barrier are not clear. But McAndrews said actively policing takes up too much time and money.
Tour operator Canadian Snowmobiles started grooming the roads up Sproatt Mountain after the province changed their tenure to make way for the Whistler Olympic Park.
"When our tenure got changed, we were given the option to go in and refurbish old logging roads and build a bit of road up into Sproatt Lake, well below the watershed. That area drains into the Callaghan, as opposed to Rainbow," said Craig Deattie.
Deattie did not want to comment on the number of non-commercial snowmobile riders that venture into Twenty One Mile Creek area.
"I am not there to govern who does and who does not," said Deattie, adding his company does not go near the watershed.
"We are not spearheading any of this (signage). It is part of our tenure... We are trying to put it where people will basically govern themselves, so they will choose not to take mechanized machinery into the watershed for safety reasons."
He added, anecdotally, he has noticed fewer snowmobiles going into the area. He believes this is related to the change in parking, since the lot now only has room for 20 to 30 trucks.
The Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee is also closely watching the issue. During their Jan. 20th meeting, chair Al Whitney made a motion to look into whether the watershed is being polluted by snowmobile activity.
"If you want to keep your water quality high, then you don't let people dump gasoline in it," said Whitney.
"We want people to know there is a good reason for not going in to the area. This isn't just us saying we don't like snowmobilers. That is not it at all. Motorized traffic in your watershed doesn't make any good sense."
But snowmobile users are not the only threat to the Twenty One Mile Creek watershed.
Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said he is more concerned with dogs, bears and people hiking in the area.
"The hydrocarbon is not a high concern from a public health perspective," said Barnett. "It is more biological waste from a dog that might contaminate the water close to the intake system, as opposed to a drop of oil up further away."
Barnett added that the RMOW checks the Twenty One Mile Creek water every three months for traces of metals and oil.