Time to protect our local rivers

Our Island and its communities are entering another summer facing drought conditions, water restrictions and increased risk of forest fires. While the ongoing effects of drought are top of mind for people on the West Coast, in the nation’s capital it doesn’t even make the news.

So I’m using the one method any Member of Parliament has to raise local issues and I will be introducing a private member’s bill to highlight how the ongoing drought is affecting all of us and the water we depend on.

While the most recent Conservative budget made huge spending promises there was no mention of funding to help mitigate the effects of the drought, or any other effect of climate change.

The River Forecast Centre is already saying our region is at risk for future water supply shortages. That means less water for safe drinking water, less water for hydroelectric power generation and less water for salmon to spawn.

I cannot find any economist who has counted the numbers to know how much this ongoing drought will cost our province but as a comparison, California spent $1.4 billion on LNG when its hydroelectric dams lost capacity.

Here is an edited version of the speech I gave when introducing my bill C-694: “Mr. Speaker, I introduce this PMB today, to add the Koksilah and Nanaimo Rivers to the Navigation Protection Act, because rivers on Vancouver Island are in trouble.

Like most of the West Coast of North America, our rivers are enduring drought conditions. A smaller than normal snowpack his winter meant very little spring freshets to feed these rivers.

The Koksilah River was once known for its runs of steelhead but overfishing in the 1980s nearly extirpated them from the river. Now, impacts from logging and agriculture and low summer flows continue to endanger its recovery. Along with the Cowichan River, the Koksilah drains into the Cowichan Estuary, an important intertidal area that hosts migratory waterfowl, abundant eelgrass beds and the occasional otter.

If summer flows are too low, spawning salmon must be captured in Cowichan Bay and transported up river to their spawning beds.

The Nanaimo River flows 78 kilometres from its headwaters on Mount Hooper to the Strait of Georgia. While it is celebrated as a great recreational river, it also provides drinking water to 86,000 residents.

But the surface water is only part of the story – the Cassidy aquifers are a groundwater source near the terminal end of the river. While the river recharges the aquifers during high spring flows, the opposite happens in the late fall when the cool groundwater from the aquifers helps recharge the river, providing ideal conditions for salmon runs.

Sadly, there is no federal protection for either of these rivers, even though they both provide fish habitat for the West Coast’s iconic salmon.

That is why I propose that these two rivers should be added to the list of those protected by federal legislation under the Navigation Protection Act.”