John Vandendungen never imagined this day would come.
He’s just been ordered by the province to turn off irrigation that waters hundreds of acres of forage crops that feed his dairy cows.
“It hurt yes,” said the Cowichan dairy farmer.
“We were kind of just at the critical stage in some fields.”
In a first-ever on Vancouver Island, an emergency order has been put in place to keep flows going on the drying Koksilah River. It’s a water source that his farm and dozens of neighbouring properties have drawn on for decades.
“So it’s very concerning looking forward to the future,” said Vandendungen.
“If we can’t grow the forage then I can’t see a future for dairy farming on Vancouver Island.”
“It’s that bad I mean,” said Vandendungen.
Compliance from landowners is now being closely monitored with the threat of steep fines under BC’s Water Sustainability Act, as officials rush to help the drought-ridden river rebound for already struggling fish.
“The survival of several populations of fish is in danger,” said David Robinson, an assistant water manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.
“And the conditions when they get this low are really severely degraded.”
Officials say the Chemainus River is also in trouble and being closely monitored. However, for now, the Koksilah River is the only one under this order.
“We need to see about 50 to 100 more litres per second flowing down this river,” said Robinson.
“And that’s what we’re aiming for.”
The order is in place until Sept. 30 when irrigation is typically still needed on Vancouver Island.
“We’re worried,” said Vandendungen.