Water to be pumped from Lake Cowichan into Cowichan River amid drought

Water to be pumped from Lake Cowichan into Cowichan River amid drought

Crews are preparing to pump water from Lake Cowichan into the Cowichan River as the waterway continues to experience a severe drought.

Paper Excellence, the company that owns Catalyst Crofton, has been authorized by the province to open the Cowichan Lake Weir starting as early as Sept. 11, depending on rainfall.

Water will pump from the weir at a rate of approximately 4.5 cubic metres per second, which is roughly the current flow conditions of the Cowichan River.

Paper Excellence says water is being moved from the lake to preserve the river’s habitat.

“Catalyst Crofton has been collaboratively managing Cowichan River since 2002 with First Nations, local government and other key stakeholders,” said Bruce Eby, Catalyst Crofton general manager, in a release Wednesday.

“While curtailed, the mill’s water requirements are significantly reduced. However, we continue to work with our partners on our shared priorities of habitat protection of the Cowichan River and the water supply for the town of Crofton,” he said.

Water will be pumped from the lake until the fall, when water levels are expected to return to normal amid natural rainfall.

The director of strategic initiatives for the Cowichan Watershed Board says water pumping is the best option at the moment.

“We could elect not to pump and just let the river just drop naturally lower and lower and lower, but right now is when the chinook salmon are trying to get up the river and three times in the last 20 years we’ve had to truck them up because there wasn’t enough water for them to swim. We don’t want to go there either so there’s no good option for us here,” said Tom Rutherford.

Last month, the province issued fishing and water use restrictions for several rivers on Vancouver Island, including the upper Cowichan River area.

Fishing restrictions were extended along the Cowichan River from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15 because of drought and warm waters.

Paper Excellence says this year’s drought is partly due to below average snowpack during the winter, followed by a lack of rain since mid-May.

According to Paper Excellence, the Cowichan Basin has experienced 14 droughts over the past 25 years.

RELATED: Rescuers save stranded salmon from drying pools in Cowichan River

Catalyst Crofton staff, along with assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada, will be placing buoys around the weir to warn boaters of the high water flows.

Boaters are restricted from accessing the area around the weir spill gates and should use extreme caution around shorelines in the area.

“Best efforts will be made to minimize any impacts from water pumping to protect the Cowichan River and the Lake,” said Catalyst Crofton environment manager Brian Houle.

“We have engaged authorities and consultants to provide oversight and surveillance during pumping operations.”

Rutherford says the partners on the river are working towards the only good long-term solution, which is to store more water.

“If we could increase the storage in the weir by as little as 70 centimetres we would have lots of water, so that’s what the local community, led by Cowichan Tribes, has come together to do.”

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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