‘We’ve never seen it this dry’: Vancouver Island rivers are going dry despite recent rainfall

‘We've never seen it this dry': Vancouver Island rivers are going dry despite recent rainfall

Don Allingham dug deep to gather a soil sample on his Chemainus farm Sunday, after a rare rain event just hours earlier. Yet, what came up was just dust.

“Bone dry. Needs a lot more rain than this rain we had last night,” said Chemainus farmer Don Allingham.

According to the farmer, his hay crop has yielded just half that of a typical year, and he stopped irrigating crops altogether a month ago because the Chemainus River he draws water from is down to just a trickle.

“We’ve never seen it this dry. Our fields are hurting, lack of water. We do irrigate but not just myself, the local farmers see how bad it is and we just can’t irrigate anymore,” said Allingham.

Saturday’s rain barely measured at Victoria Airport, and just 8.9 mm has been recorded in close to 12 weeks. That’s less than 15 per cent of normal precipitation.

Environment Canada weather stations at Duncan/North Cowichan and Nanaimo have also recorded only 11 per cent of their average rainfall in the past 12 weeks.

The lack of water has created crises on many Island rivers. On the Koksilah River, levels are currently just one-quarter of what they should be this time of year.

“Those are levels where we are seeing serious and potentially permanent impact on salmon and salmon habitat,” said Tom Rutherford, executive director of the Cowichan Watershed Board.

Chinook salmon have already begun their fall run up the Cowichan River, but the storage of water to keep it running will run out in just two weeks.

“So if we don’t get significant rainfall in the next two weeks, we’ll have to start pumping water from the lake to keep the river alive so our heritage river will be on life support,” said Rutherford.

That had to be done in 2019. As a result, the Catalyst Paper mill in Crofton, which relies on water from the Cowichan River, is ordering pumps to direct water from Cowichan Lake over its weir and into the river.

Long-term, the Cowichan Watershed Board wants to increase water storage in Cowichan Lake for summers to come, which are predicted to be just as dry or worse in years ahead.

Chemainus farmer Don Allingham, above, says the soil has been extremely dry this summer. (CHEK News)

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