This is a grim season for the Cowichan River. Most of Vancouver Island is experiencing a drought that may last the rest of the summer.
For the Cowichan that means the river is a little more than a trickle in some parts, and deep pools that normally stay cool are many degrees warmer than normal and many fish will be lost to the higher temperatures.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District board voted to reduce the flow coming from the weir at Lake Cowichan to 4.5 cubic metres per second.
They had to take that drastic step to ensure there will be water available later in the season when salmon return to spawn.
While decisions on water licences are made at the provincial level, I recently wrote to the three federal ministers – Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries; Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs; and Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Environment – to ask for federal assistance.
An edited copy of my letter follows.
Dear Ministers, The Cowichan River is currently facing what may be the lowest water levels on record, thus creating a number of issues for the watershed and surrounding communities. The river is a critical resource in the region and beyond for fish, First Nations, the local economy and municipal sewage dilution.
The Catalyst Pulp and Paper Mill licence mandates a minimum flow of 7 cubic metres per second (cms) via control of a weir
in Lake Cowichan, the headwaters of the river. In order to conserve water, the flow has now been reduced to 5 cms and may be further reduced to 4.5 cms to mitigate the potential of running out of water by later summer.
Current sewage dilution rations are of concern to Cowichan Tribes communities immediately downstream of the wastewater system outfall.
Additionally, ongoing low water impacts the fish populations and corresponding First Nation interests.
The Cowichan River is a valuable provincial resource which serves as the index river of the U.S./Canada Salmon Treaty. Low flow in the fall will impact returning salmon stocks and future allocations of stock across both countries.
Local governments are actively working with community partners to mitigate this extreme situation.
An immediate risk management plan is being put in place, but it requires an immediate funding commitment in order to abate the current situation.
Given the severe impacts to First Nations, fish and the local economy, I urge you to assist by providing emergency funding in order to mitigate the dire situation of the Cowichan River.
Sincerely, Jean Crowder, MP Nanaimo-Cowichan
Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan. She can be reached at her Duncan office at 250-746-4896.