Another dry summer has led to a decision by Catalyst Paper to make preparations to pump water from Cowichan Lake into the Cowichan River to maintain minimum flow rates.
The company, which owns the Crofton mill, is currently installing a $500,000 pump system in Cowichan Lake to prevent the river from running dry as a result of a much smaller than usual snowpack at higher elevations this year and the ongoing dry conditions.
Brian Houle, the Crofton mill’s environmental manager, said that given current weather conditions, Catalyst expects pumping may be required by the middle of September.
He said that if pumping is required, Catalyst will use approximately 30 per cent of the pumped water for the Crofton mill and for domestic use by the community of Crofton.
Houle said the other 70 per cent will be used for conservation purposes to support fish populations in the Cowichan River.
“Keeping the river running is the right thing to do to protect community interests, fish and wildlife, and to help avoid a temporary shutdown of the Crofton mill, which employs approximately 600 local workers,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Catalyst was granted emergency permission to reduce the river flow to 4.5 cubic metres per second, the lowest possible flow permitted to allow for fisheries survival and sewage dilution.
Houle said drought conditions in the region have been getting continuously worse each summer for the past three years, and this is the first time Catalyst has had to set up a pumping system in anticipation of the conditions continuing through the coming weeks.
But he said it’s a “stop-gap measure” to temporarily deal with the situation, and Catalyst sees raising the weir at Lake Cowichan to allow for more water storage as the best solution.
“That’s an issue that has been discussed in the community for the past 20 years, and one of the reasons why the Cowichan Water Board was formed in 2007,” Houle said.
“We had first hoped that we could just add to the existing weir, but we have learned that there are some seismic constraints to that plan. We’ll likely have to rebuild the weir to store enough water in the lake.”
The Cowichan Valley Regional District applied for more than $10 million through government programs and grants last year for the rebuilding project, but was unsuccessful.
But Houle said that Cowichan Tribes and Catalyst will join the CVRD in its efforts this year, and he hopes that will help in the funding process.
“In the meantime, we’ll have the pumps ready to go if needed until the fall rains finally begin,” he said.
“We’re just renting the pumps, but the infrastructure for the pumping system will be permanent and could be used again next year, if necessary.”