The future of a popular man-made lake in Dawson Creek, B.C., is uncertain following the drowning death of a 12-year-old in 2016.

Northern Health wants to subject Rotary Lake to more safety regulations, but city leaders say they can't afford the costs associated with the new standards.

Rotary Lake was built in 1963 and has acted as an accessible swimming hole in the city's Mile 0 Park. However, it has been closed since 2016 when a 12-year-old girl became submerged for several minutes and later died in hospital.

Though a cause of death has not been publicly released, an RCMP report said she may have been stuck in an intake grate.

Rotary Lake

Rotary Lake is a man-made swimming hole in Mile 0 Park in Dawson Creek, B.C. (Mile 0 Park/Facebook)

Following the death, Northern Health ordered the lake drained, and it has not been refilled since.

Northern Health wants lake status rescinded

While artificial swimming facilities such as pools and hot tubs usually require a licence to operate in B.C., Rotary Lake does not. 

This is because of a special provincial exemption granted in 1989 to have it classified as a lake rather than a pool, despite it being man made.

This designation allows Rotary Lake to operate without lifeguards and without regular inspections from Northern Health.

In 2017, Northern Health recommended the exemption be rescinded, pointing to the 2016 fatality and a 1994 incident in which a five-year-old drowned.

Rotary Lake

The man-made Rotary Lake was constructed in 1962. (Terri Spencer/Rotary Lake Preservation Society)

"There have been two preventable child deaths at this facility," said Dr. Raina Fumerton, Northern Health's medical health officer for northeast B.C.

"I completely appreciate what an important resource this facility is to the community, but it has to be made safe."

Dr. Fumerton said the addition of lifesaving staff and an improved filtration system are among the changes Northern Health wants to see before Rotary Lake reopens.

Community group lobbying for lake to remain open

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead said the city doesn't have the money to meet Northern Health's requirements, which city staff estimate at up to $500,000 in immediate upgrades plus an additional $150,000 a year for staff and maintenance.

On Monday, Burnstead, along with the rest of city council, deferred a decision on Rotary Lake's future in order to hold further meetings with Northern Health and the province on how to keep the exemption or reduce the costs associated with becoming a pool.

"We expect to have some decision within the next month or two," he said. 

'It is one place that doesn't cost anything to go to' - Sharlene Weingart

Meanwhile, a community group dedicated to keeping Rotary Lake open has been formed in the city.

"There's a lot of families that pack up for the day and head down, and that's their trip to the lake," said Sharlene Weingart, president of the Rotary Lake Preservation Society.

"It is one place that doesn't cost anything to go to."

Weingart said it's important to have a place for people to swim that doesn't cost money and doesn't require a vehicle to get to.

She said while she would like to see safety improvements made, she also wants Rotary Lake to remain classified as a lake rather than a pool with lifeguards.

"It's been around for 60 years ... I would hate to see government allow Northern Health to rescind the status," she said.