Jane Kilthei is an enthusiastic director of One Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

VIDEO: Lake Cowichan takes climate change seriously, council tells One Cowichan delegation

Discussion around the need to safeguard Cowichan Lake and River is not new to the council table

Lake Cowichan town council reassured One Cowichan that it is well aware that climate change is a very important issue for Valley communities.

A delegation from the action group, including Parker Jefferson and Jane Kilthei, spoke to councillors Dec. 17.

Jefferson said, “in the course of my volunteer work, I’ve seen the effects of climate change in our watershed.”

He explained that one of those efforts is the rescuing of salmon fry that get stranded in pools as creeks dry out.

“This work has been done for decades by Cowichan Salmonid Enhancement Society with Bob Crandall at the head of that. Since then the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society has taken on that role, helping to do that. They have records going way back. They know what time of the year they would have to go to certain pools on Robertson River, for example.

“Now we are doing those same pools two or three months earlier than previously was the case. It’s something that you can see even in my limited experience of the past five years. That really starts to drive it home, when you get out there.

“I also work with the group that developed the Cowichan Watershed sustainability plan. We looked at all the projections. It’s a little bit scary what’s going on and you can see it here. We’re not getting the precipitation that we did during the summers and our precipitation is now going to be primarily during the fall. We’re getting a Pineapple Express this week, and a whole lot of rain. That’s primarily the new regime for water. It’s something we really need to be thinking and preparing for.”

Jefferson quoted from a report Catalyst released in which the company, which operates the weir that governs water flow from Cowichan Lake into the Cowichan River during the summer months, analyzed the amount of water going into the Cowichan River for every month since 2016, which was previously the driest year.

“It is certainly likely to continue,” Jefferson said. “I’ve also seen where, using this data, we can also make positive change. I’m just a lay person but I get involved. We’ve been promoting high spring flows. It’s really important to have at least 25 cubic metres per second through May and June so that smolts can spend their days in the river.”

The massive insect hatches in spring are also part of this, he said.

“Those chinooks get really fat eating all those. If we reduce the flows too much then all those fish are put in amongst predators.”

Allowing more water downriver earlier helps those fish tremendously, Jefferson said.

“This is the kind of thing where, if you have climate change in the front of the mind it helps to affect your decisions. You can hopefully make decisions that sustain the ability of the watershed and help the community.”

He was followed by Kilthei.

She attempted to connect local concerns and wider issues, saying that her group had written to council in the summer, urging the town to declare a climate emergency.

“As Parker described, Lake Cowichan is on the front lines of this emergency. The main reason there wasn’t enough water in Cowichan Lake this year was climate change. Compared to the 1960s, there’s been a third less water coming into Cowichan Lake in the spring and summer months. The weir, built in 1957, can no longer hold back enough water to maintain flows in the river to support a healthy ecosystem for fish and other life,” she said.

Fire risk in the community is increasing year by year and emissions continue to rise and scientific reports tell how increasingly dire the situation is, she said.

“These reports agree that while adaptation to climate impact is important, we urgently need to cut emissions in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 to have a chance of preventing runaway climate disruption,” she continued, pointing out that local governments, even those as small as Lake Cowichan, can help by keeping their eyes constantly on that goal.

Limiting urban sprawl, thinking green, and working collaboratively with other levels of government are all useful tools towards that end, Kilthei said, urging councillors to proclaim a climate emergency.

Once she had finished speaking, councillors explained that the subject had been addressed in July.

Mayor Rod Peters also told Jefferson and Kilthei that “I don’t know whether you got the report or not but there was a report from Brian Houle [Catalyst]. This year, the weir is going to be closed in March and they’re going to keep at 25 cubic metres per second right through that time frame you want. I’ll see about getting you a copy. On Jan. 15 we have a meeting with Leroy Van Wieren of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society and the whole consulting group. We’ll be dealing with that. We’ve got to keep water in the lake this year,” he concluded.

***

At its July 9 meeting, when first dealing with a letter from One Cowichan on the same subject, Lake Cowichan council decided to add its name to the list of groups calling for a declaration of a climate change emergency.

“Unfortunately our policy is not to do declarations,” said Coun. Tim McGonigle, at the time. “Most municipal governments do not do declarations or proclamations.

“But, municipal governments are quite focussed on climate change and how it impacts us. I think we are doing the best that we can with the funds that we have available to us and we are constantly thinking of ways to reduce our GHG. We will be looking at some in the retrofit of this building [Town of Lake Cowichan offices], for instance, and we’ll continue to do our part.”

Coun. Kristine Sandhu said she thought council should do something.

“People fear that we’re in a climate emergency and I think we need to keep saying that more and more because that’s the only way individuals can make changes in their own lives. We can only do so much for our community. It’s going to be up to everyone else, the residents, to make those changes. We can’t tell them what changes to make but we must tell them we are in a climate emergency and embrace that with: what are we going to do? The federal government has done that but they didn’t give much feedback to it. We look to them as leadership to guide us. I like the fact that they took that first step. I would like to add our signature [to the letter].”

Coun. Carolyne Austin noted then that no municipalities had as yet stepped up. “They are all groups like the watershed board, the garden club,” she said.

Sandhu replied, “Then we will be the first. We are leaders, not followers.”

The motion passed, by a vote of three to two, to include the Town of Lake Cowichan to the signatories of the letter but no declaration was issued.

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Climate change, the Lake Cowichan weir, drought, the condition of the Cowichan watershed: they’re all important to One Cowichan’s Parker Jefferson. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

One Cowichan’s Parker Jefferson spoke to Lake Cowichan council. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

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