Even after a fairly wet fall, Cowichan Lake has still not fully refilled after last summer’s dry conditions.
But Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at the lake, said calls for a lot more rain in the coming weeks should do the trick.
Catalyst had to resort to pumping water into the Cowichan River over its weir at Cowichan Lake from Aug. 29 to mid September to maintain water flows in the river after the dry summer.
It was the first time the company, which depends on water from the Cowichan River to run its pulp and paper mill operations in Crofton, has had to take such action since the weir was first constructed in the 1950s.
Houle said 2019 will go down as a very unusual year from beginning to end.
“When comparing 2019 to the most recent dry year of 2016, 63 per cent less water flowed down the Cowichan River in 2019 from Feb. 1 to Dec. 13,” he said.
“January was exceptionally wet in 2019, while every other month was exceptionally dry. From the other trends, the snow pack is zero today and wet weather is predicted to begin this week.”
In response to how difficult 2019 conditions were, Houle said planning for 2020 has begun already.
He said regulators and key stakeholders are rebuilding the operating plan for the lake and river to be ready for the next drought, and it could be next year.
“I am hoping for a normal, wetter, 2020 but we are preparing for another challenging year and developing a plan to ensure water is released in the best way possible for all stakeholders’ interests.”
Senior levels of government announced last August they are kicking in funding to help pay for the preliminary work required to build a new weir on Cowichan Lake that will be better able to hold water in storage during dry years.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District, in collaboration with Cowichan Tribes, Paper Excellence Canada which owns the Crofton mill, and the Cowichan Watershed Board, who submitted a joint application, will receive $4.08 million over three years for the work, with $1.3 million this fiscal year and the remaining money coming in the next two years, from the joint-federal/provincial BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.
A component of the funding will be used for the development of detailed engineering designs and permitting for a new weir in Cowichan Lake, as well as strategies for the removal of the existing weir.
Another component of the money will be used to determine Cowichan Lake’s natural boundary in order to conduct a private-property impact assessment associated with an increase to lake levels if and when a new dam is constructed in the future.