There is an upside to the powerful rain and wind storm so many are now cleaning up from. Its brought up river levels on the Cowichan River that was running dry.
Officials had warned that by October 12th Lake Cowichan would reach zero storage to supply water into the river, and heavy duty pumps would have to be turned on to keep the river from running dry. But just under the wire, the storm hit with amazing force and has renewed hopes the salmon who’ve been stalled by low water will be able to travel up river after all.
Watching the water with fists clenched around spears, ready to strike at a moment’s notice is a rite of fall for Cowichan Tribes members.
That boys like Ryan Thomas start taking part in from a young as five.
“How long have you been doing it,” he’s asked. “Eight years,” he says. “How old are you?” “Thirteen. It’s my birthday today,” says the smiling boy.
What a birthday it’s turned out to be.
Thanks to a sudden downpour from Thursday night’s rainstorm, the river they fish each fall that until days ago was threatening to run dry is now flowing and bringing in the Chinook salmon that have been blocked by low water levels.
“We got out here at six,” says 12-year-old Eddie Wilson. “And is it because you saw all the rain come down?” he’s asked. “Yeah.”
“It put a smile on my face to see that rain,” says Chief William Seymour.
The Chief of Cowichan Tribes says the situation was at a critical point.
“My community survives on the salmon we get out of the river and without that we have to find other ways to get that food on the table of our communities,” says Chief Seymour.
Three drought years in a row have reduced flows in the river to record lows. Just to keep water flowing at a minimum level to keep fish alive in it, 20 industrial pumps were set up at the weir in Lake Cowichan to start pumping water from the lake into the river in mid-October if it came to that.
“Yeah it’s pretty sad that it’s that low,” says Cowichan Tribes member David Joe.
With the new rainfall the situation has improved but Chief Seymour says much more will be needed.
“Our communities and members are getting some fish but the reality is the numbers are way below what it was last year,” says Chief Seymour.
After a year that’s dropped river levels to new lows, it will take equally record rains to replenish.