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Locals celebrate as province commits $14 million to replace Cowichan Lake weir

New, bigger weir would help maintain water levels in Cowichan watershed during droughts
Province commits to $14 million to help pay for new weir on Cowichan Lake. (Citizen file photo)

B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy announced that $14 million has been earmarked to help pay for the long-sought replacement of the Cowichan Lake weir in the 2024 provincial budget, unveiled on Feb. 22.

With climate change and more extreme droughts every summer, which has seen water levels in Cowichan Lake and Cowichan River reduced to dangerous levels, impacting the local supply of drinking water and fish habitat, replacing the weir with a larger one to hold more water in the lake has been seen as increasingly necessary.


“The Cowichan Valley Regional District and Cowichan Tribes have been calling for a rebuild (of the weir) and we’re proud to support this important project and partnership,” Conroy said when announcing the funding commitment.

The construction of a new weir has been studied and discussed for many years and the federal government committed $24 million towards the project, as well as for other resilience projects on the Cowichan River, in 2020.

But Cowichan Tribes Chief Xtli’li ye’ Lydia Hwitsum, who is co-chair of the Cowichan Watershed Board, said last August that a further $14 million is required to fund the new weir, and that nothing can move forward until the full amount has been raised.

“I am pleased to see the provincial government commit funding for the raising of the Lake Cowichan weir, which is a positive step for this essential project to sustain the health of the Quw’utsun Sta’lo,” said Hwitsum.

“We look forward to the next steps with the province in advancing liability protection and a collaborative approach to water governance that respects Cowichan Tribes’ inherent rights.”

The current weir, located at the mouth of Cowichan Lake in the Town of Lake Cowichan, was built in the 1950s, mainly to provide industrial water storage for Catalyst Paper’s pulp and paper mill in Crofton.

But the weir was not designed to hold the additional and necessary volume of water to sustain the river flows that is now needed, nor does it meet today’s engineering standards required for expansion of storage capacity.

The weir is owned and operated by Catalyst Paper, under licence from the province.

In 2018, with the support of the province, the weir’s stakeholders developed the Cowichan Water Use Plan, which resulted in a broad consensus to replace the existing 97-cm weir, with a new structure that would be 70 cm higher.

Engineering and design work, including a shoreline assessment, was concluded in 2022.

“We are elated to hear that the provincial government is committing to the health of this heritage river and ecosystem, while also supporting water preservation for the communities who depend on this critical resource,” said Aaron Stone, chair of the CVRD and co-chair of the Cowichan Watershed Board.

Brian Houle, Catalyst’s environment manager, said he is very supportive of the new higher weir as it would help the Cowichan watershed tremendously.


He said water flows in the Cowichan River were reduced significantly last summer due to the lack of water during the severe drought, one of several that have hit the region in recent years due to climate change.

“[Catalyst] pumped water from the lake to the river for 36 days last summer,” Houle said.

“If the new dam were in place at the beginning of 2023, the higher dam could have stored the rainfall event we experienced later in April, and that stored water would have been enough water to secure the river with at least 4.5 cms of water, and likely higher flow, through to the return of rainfall, and we would have had zero days of pumping lake to river.”

Tom Rutherford, strategic priorities director for the watershed board, said there is still more work to do before the new weir is in place, but the funding announcement is a time to celebrate the decades of work and collaboration by so many who love and care for the long-term health of the Cowichan River.

“Today is a good day,” he said.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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