Lachlan McKinnon dove into the Cowichan River Wednesday to escape the heat and find relief he’s enjoyed in its waters for over 50 years.
“It adds years to your life,” said McKinnon, a Duncan resident.
But there was something different this visit. The abundant crayfish he’d seen in years past were nearly all gone.
“So I don’t know if that’s due to the temperature. I mean, it’s definitely lower water,” said McKinnon.
A look around revealed dead crayfish and fish fry as record-breaking temperatures baked already lowered water levels due to the continued drought, and raised water temperatures in the river.
“Have you ever seen it like this?” CHEK News asked Lake Cowichan resident Cherilin Teasdale, as she stood looking at rocks in the river.
“No, and it’s been really busy with the tubers still,” said Teasdale.
Fisheries officials recorded the Cowichan River’s water temperature at 24 degrees Tuesday. A heat warning is currently in effect for B.C.’s South Coast, including parts of Vancouver Island.
Local river steward and resident Joe Saysell said he’d seen an alarming increase in dead mussels and crayfish on the shoreline daily.
“This is so critical, like never in my entire life did I ever dream I’d see something like this, and is this going to happen next year? We’re not even through this yet,” said Saysell.
So Saysell is pleading with the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resources to put a stop to the river being opened to fishing on Sept. 1.
“Close it and keep it closed. We’ve got to find out how many fish we have left before it’s ever opened again,” said Saysell.
After a massive fish die-off was recorded on the Cowichan River in July.
Levels on Cowichan Lake have now dropped so dramatically that within weeks, Catalyst Paper is prepared to start pumping water directly over its weir into Cowichan River to keep fish alive.
“And if this keeps up, like what kind of temperature are we going to have? You know we’ve already had this major fish kill, and is this going to keep going on and on, you know,” said Saysell.
When asked for comment, the BC Ministry of Forests told CHEK News that staff could not make our deadline for a statement.
As residents along the Cowichan River find evidence daily of how critical this situation is.