Cowichan governments band together to save water

Watering restrictions will be the same for everyone in the Cowichan Valley this summer. The region’s local governments, the City of Duncan, Municipality of North Cowichan, Town of Ladysmith, Town of Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Valley Regional District and Cowichan Tribes, have gotten together to create one set of rules for everybody.

"The lack of snowpack, low flows in the Cowichan River and declining levels in monitoring wells throughout the region make water conservation paramount for every resident within the CVRD," said North Cowichan Mayor and CVRD Board Chair Jon Lefebure.

Watering restrictions within the different jurisdictions were all very similar, Lefebure said, and combining them into one uniform set of rules will "make it simpler for our citizens to follow."

The biggest change to the watering restrictions is that they now begin a month earlier on May 1, rather than June 1. Local governments have taken up the Cowichan Watershed Board’s challenge to meet, or beat, the region’s current daily domestic water use at 246 L per capita per day, or undertake an initiative to reduce total annual consumption by at least 20 per cent by December 31, 2018.

It’s important to get the message out that there’s "a new normal" of more water in the winter months and less in the summer, Lefebure said.

"It’s all part of the same picture, that we have to be concerned about water all year and we have to be concerned about restricting seasonal use," he said.

A regional effort at water conservation, which includes uniform watering restrictions, will help the area meet that goal, officials said.

"Lake Cowichan has been acutely aware of the value of water and its impact on daily life," said Town of Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest. "Despite our close proximity to the Cowichan Lake and river, we adopted a program of universal water metering to do what we can to conserve the valuable resource and asset that water is to all of the residents of the Cowichan Valley. We are now very pleased to be part of this new regional initiative on regulating water use."

Alarms were sounded early this spring about a potentially severe drought this summer and fall. Levels in Cowichan Lake, which feeds into the Cowichan River, were already at midsummer lows months in advance.

Little rain has fallen this spring and little snow fell last winter, meaning there is no snowpack to feed the lake with meltwater as the region approaches the drier months.

Low flows threaten salmon and other fish populations, sewage dilution, operation of Catalyst’s Crofton mill, as well as recreational uses of the Cowichan River.

"Cowichan Tribes supports our local governments’ initiatives in the regional water conservation effort," said Cowichan Chief Chip Seymour.

"As Cowichan people, we have a deep respect for water and the Cowichan River, so safeguarding the watershed is key not only for our culture, but for the entire Cowichan Valley and the wildlife that rely upon a clean, sustainable and accessible water source."

Lefebure said it’s important to understand that there is sufficient water to supply our household needs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt a culture of conservation.

"Although we may have enough water under restrictions it doesn’t mean that we can just let people use all the water they want," he said.

Problems would arise if there were no restraints placed on summer water usage. Demand, Lefebure explained, would go way up and the current infrastructure would be inadequate to meet it.

"It will help to make sure that we are looking after our domestic water supply," he explained.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District was also celebrating a decision by the Environmental Appeal Board last week to uphold the decision of the Deputy Water Comptroller to modify the rules regarding operation of the Cowichan Lake weir to hold back water in the lake earlier in the year, maintain minimum outflows at 7.08 cubic cm per second and maintain specified lake levels during the flow control period.

The water comptroller’s decision was made in 2013, but was appealed by six lakeshore property owners.

They claimed that the deputy comptroller lacked jurisdiction to make the order, the process was unfair and that prolonged water storage resulted in loss of use of their property and loss of their property from erosion.

Hearings were held in April and June of last year.

"We are pleased that the EAB recognized the greater public benefit of enhancing the flexibility of water storage on Cowichan Lake," said CVRD Board Chair Jon Lefebure. "This decision allows lake outflows to be controlled in a more proactive manner which will help to maintain adequate river flows during the dry periods of late summer and fall."

Stage one watering restrictions are now in effect, limiting the sprinkling of lawns to a maximum of two hours between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on odd or even days depending on your house number. Hand watering of trees, shrubs and gardens with a hose that has a spring-loaded nozzle is also allowed for a maximum of two hours during the same time windows. You can water up to a maximum of four hours with a micro irrigation or drip system.

Check your local government website for more details.

"The City of Duncan is committed to responsible stewardship of all our natural resources and with dry conditions across the region, the necessity to conserve water is at the forefront," said City of Duncan Mayor Phil Kent. "It’s the responsible thing to do and the city is proud to be part of this region-wide initiative."