Bobbin Hicks de Plumpton could hardly believe how dry the Chemainus River had become on Monday.
“There’s nothing there. Yeah it’s really sad to see the river disappearing,” said Hicks de Plumpton, who has lived on the Chemainus River her entire life.
The one-time rapids-filled stretch of Chemainus River that runs by her house, has dwindled down to a trickle. As extremely low flows from the Stage 4 drought on Eastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and growing gravel banks from erosion have nearly dried up the river.
“It’s lower than it’s ever been in my life like ever and over the years it’s been getting lower and lower and lower,” she said. “It’s just a trickle now.”
Six weeks without rain have left Vancouver Island rivers and streams in trouble. The provincial government has warned that the Gulf Islands and watersheds of the Koksilah River, Chemainus River, The Millstone River, French Creek, The Tsolum River and Black Creek are all at risk of additional impacts of the drought.
Cowichan Tribes has removed tonnes of gravel banks and log jams from the Koksilah and Cowichan Rivers this year, since low water flows and debris increase the temperature of the water for salmon fry.
“We’re trying to at least soften what’s going on to the river,” said Ken Elliott, a fisheries contractor for Cowichan Tribes. “So we’re trying to convert it back to a river instead of it being a beach,” said Elliott.
According to Elliott, all of Cowichan’s rivers are facing similar conditions. As a combination of extreme low flows in the summer, then extreme rains in winter grow into floods.
“What we’ve been noticing is these conditions are carrying on and they’re getting more dramatic, more volatile,” said Elliott.
Hicks de Plumpton said she would like to see similar emergency measures, such as gravel removal undertaken on the Chemainus River too, as the drought of summer drags on, with no rain in sight.
“I think we’re going for bad times,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”