Cowichan Lake to be pumped into Cowichan River for first time

Cowichan Lake to be pumped into Cowichan River for first time
WatchRecord drought year leads to pumping to maintain minimum river flows for spawning salmon and the mill's operation

For the first time in history, water will be pumped from Cowichan Lake into the Cowichan River.

Water levels are at an all-time low and the unprecedented move is deemed necessary to maintain minimum water flows.

There are numerous markers placed in the lake to show low spots where boaters could bottom out.

“I haven’t seen it this low in the past ever,” said Bob Pacholuk, a life-long Cowichan Valley resident. “It’s concerning and scary.”

Cowichan Lake has seen its fair share of low waters in late summer. There have been 11 drought years since 1998 but this year’s drought has become the most extreme.

There was only half the normal snowpack and no rain since January.

“That’s a meteorological mystery how we could get through those months without the rain we always get. Climate change might be playing into this,” said Brian Houle, Paper Excellence’s Environmental Manager.

And so the extreme weather is resulting in an extreme measure.

Tomorrow, for the first time in its history, the company will start pumping water from the lake over the weir into the river.

“For the mill to operate we need a river that’s sustaining a flow,” said Houle.

Minimum water levels are also necessary for spawning fish.

This week the federal and provincial governments gave $4 million to develop engineering plans to build a new larger weir and remove the old one. The money will also go towards determining Lake Cowichan’s natural boundary.

Knowing the boundary would allow for private property impact assessments associated with an increase to lake levels when a new dam is constructed in the future.

“I could see there being a metre of additional height built into a new weir and progressively adding storage over the years as it’s required,” said Ian Morrison, Chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

As for the fish in Cowichan Lake, Paper Excellence has an environmental monitor watching to make sure they don’t get stranded in shallow water.

The emergency pumping into the river will begin at 11 am on Thursday.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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