Catalyst reduces river flow to keep water in lake

Catalyst Paper has reduced the flow of the Cowichan River to 4.7 cubic metres per second, down from about 5.5 previously.

Catalyst Paper has reduced the flow of the Cowichan River to 4.7 cubic metres per second, down from about 5.5 previously.

Catalyst Crofton environment manager Brian Houle said the summertime step-downs have become the new norm.

“We’re to the same flow we were at last year at this time. As long as we continue to get an annual drought we’ll be in this situation of annual reductions,” Houle said. “It’s kind of a function of the weather.”

The goal is to keep more water in Cowichan Lake for the fall.

“We are pulling out water at a lower rate to let it last longer,” Houle explained, noting a river flow of 4.5 cubic metres per second can be sustained longer than the previous 5.5 cubic metres per second and the seven cubic metres per second before that.

According to Cowichan Watershed Board coordinator Rodger Hunter the flow is technically now at 4.7 cubic metres per second.

“Now they’ve gone back up a little bit because it’s tricky at 4.5 to maintain the 2.83 cubic metres per second below the Catalyst intake that’s required. If the flow is 4.7 when they take their water it assures that 2.83 cubic metres per second is left, which is what is required under their licence,” Hunter said.

Catalyst’s licence says the company is supposed to keep the flow at seven cubic metres per second flow in the river through the summer but climate change has changed the reality of that happening.

“There was no appreciable snow in the mountains this past winter, we had a dry spring and we began this summer well below the top of the weir and so in order to ensure that there’s water for fish and that Catalyst can operate,” the flow needed to be reduced, Hunter said.

“Everybody wants there to be water in the fall for the salmon to migrate. It’s a no brainer. And Catalyst wants water in the fall so they can continue to operate. So the goals are aligned.”

The big thing for the future, Hunter said, is somebody needs to take out a licence to increase the storage in the lake.

Whoever has a “dog in the fight” could apply, he noted.

“That needs to happen. Somebody needs to take out the licence and the weir needs to be raised.”

The province, the federal government, local government and Catalyst all have reason to apply.

“All those entities could have an interest in taking on a licence,” he said. “Someone needs to step forward and do it.

It’s not that easy, however, as in the past some residents have opposed the idea of more water in the lake as it could lead to property loss.