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Premier visits Lake Cowichan to celebrate funding for new weir

Provincial funding of $14 million for weir a “no brainer”, David Eby said

“It takes a village to raise a weir,” B.C. Premier David Eby told a crowd of politicians, dignitaries and guests who gathered at Lake Cowichan’s Saywell Park on March 22 to celebrate the $14 million the province committed to in its 2024 provincial budget to help pay for the long-sought replacement of the Cowichan Lake weir.

Eby praised the local stakeholders who have been dealing with the impacts of climate change on the Cowichan River and Cowichan Lake and other water systems in the region over the years — including local governments, the Cowichan Watershed Board and First Nations — and their efforts to replace the aging and increasingly ineffective weir.


“Last year, the iconic Cowichan River almost dried up as B.C. experienced record drought,” he said.

“Only emergency measures and giant pumps were able to keep the river flowing during the (dry) season. Replacing the Cowichan weir will allow more water to be captured, stored and used when needed. This will keep the river healthy, the fish swimming and better support the people of Cowichan during severe drought.”

Eby said the impacts of climate change are being felt all over Vancouver Island, and beyond.

“Low water flows are becoming more regular in many of our rivers and lakes, and we need to respond,” he said.

“It’s time for the government to step up to ensure the infrastructure is in place, not only for schools and hospitals, but for projects like this that deal with climate-change issues. Funding for this project was a no-brainer. It’s shovel-ready and has the support of local governments and First Nations. Congratulations to everyone for pulling together on this.”

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, particularly after the death of many fish in the river last summer due to low water flows and high temperatures.


The construction of a new, higher weir, which will add 70 centimetres of additional water-storage capacity in Cowichan Lake on top of the 97 centimetres storage capacity the lake has with the current 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.

Asked if more funding will be needed on top of the funding for the new weir that has been committed to by senior levels of government due to rising construction costs, Eby acknowledged that the project’s costs may vary as it moves forward.

“It’s a fact that the estimated cost of replacing the weir when it was discussed in the 1990s was about $400,000,” he said.

“We intend to work closely with the proponents to get this done.”

As for when construction of the weir will begin and when it will be completed, Nathan Cullen, minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, who was with Eby at the event, said there are still some governance issues to be settled before construction begins, but once that is done, it’s expected it will take approximately two years to complete the new weir.


Cullen said it’s important to have a weir in place on Cowichan Lake that can meet the new challenges of climate change.

“We have to learn to adapt,” he said.

“As of March 1 this year, the snow pack in the mountains was just 66 per cent of what is typically there at this time of year, the lowest in decades. The issue is a shared responsibility, but the province has a role to play as we try to determine what this spring will look like.”

Cindy Daniels, the new Cowichan Tribes chief and co-chair of the Cowichan Watershed Board, noted that March 22 is World Water Day and how important water is to all life.

She recognized Cowichan leaders who came before who worked hard to deal with the growing impacts of climate change on local water systems, including former Chief William Seymour and former Chief Lydia Hwitsum.

“I raise my hands to them and I will continue on that path,” Daniels said.

“If we work together, we can react to the these changes for future generations.”

Aaron Stone, chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the other co-chair of the watershed board, also said he’s standing on the shoulders of many others who came before him who have been working towards the construction of the new weir.

“So many World Water Days before this have been sombre occasions for us, but now we’re moving forward with this great step for the health of the river and lake,” he said.

“This is an important and emotional day for all of the Cowichan Valley.”

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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