Cowichan Valley Regional District vote allows raising weir

As water levels continue to drop in the Cowichan River with no significant rainfall in sight, the Cowichan Valley Regional District board voted Wednesday to take action to try to prevent such a crisis in the future.

Seven years after it was completed, directors finally voted to endorse the Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan’s last recommendation to store and/or access more water in Cowichan Lake during the winter and spring for use during the dry summer and fall months.

This will likely mean raising the weir between Cowichan Lake and the Cowichan River, a plan that has always been controversial with a small group of lakefront property owners. It also opens the door to installing pumps for use in the summer and fall.

Jacob Ellis, senior policy advisor for the CVRD presented the case to the regional services committee, which is comprised of the CVRD board members.

A flow of seven cubic metres per second is the minimum required to sustain a healthy habitat for fish, provide sewage dilution.

It’s also the best for maintaining human uses, as well as feeding Catalyst mill operations in Crofton.

To try to prevent the river from running dry, which is in danger of happening next month if rainfall does not occur, that flow has already been significantly reduced.

Over the years, the river has seen an increasing number of days where it has fallen below that minimum. One problem is inflow of water into the lake.

"Summer flows have declined 35 per cent since 1955," Ellis pointed out. "We don’t have enough water in Cowichan Lake to sustain adequate river flows."

Climate change is the culprit for many of the problems, as it has led to lower than normal snow packs and longer periods of drought.

Dir. Mel Dorey also pointed out that clearcut logging around the lake has had a negative impact, as the trees help to hold more water in the ground and prevent flooding, and provide shade which holds snow in place for longer. Further, bare hillsides are prone to higher winds that dry out the landscape.

While in the past the issue of raising the weir has been contentious enough to prevent the board from making a decision, it passed easily Wednesday.

Dir. Tim McGonigle, representing the Town of Lake Cowichan, was the lone vote against.