Water could be pumped over the weir early this summer if drought continues. (Gazette file)

Water could be pumped over the weir early this summer if drought continues. (Gazette file)

VIDEO: Would a ‘count-down’ sign help Cowichan Lakers and visitors preserve water?

Folks need to know how dire the situation is getting: Ken Traynor

Would it be a good idea to place a sign near the entrance of Lake Cowichan to show folks just how little water is left in Cowichan Lake?

That’s what Ken Traynor of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society proposed to Lake Cowichan town council on Tuesday, June 18.

He was appearing as a delegate for the group.

“We’re looking at developing educational materials,” he told councillors. “This will all be going to the watershed board. We’ve got a website called weirready.ca ready to run this summer and we’ll have things to be distributed at major events.

“One idea that’s come up is we want to make sure people are aware how low the lake levels are. We live here all the time, of course we’re aware of it, but visitors don’t know.

“Maybe we could put a countdown sign to highlight how soon we would reach zero storage, which currently would be 51 days on the lake unless we get some rain.

“The idea is that [a countdown sign] would really put it up front for people. They’d know the situation is serious and they’d go to weirready.ca and they’d find lake level information there, a description of how the weir works…The idea is that there would be somewhere that people, who are concerned about it could go. We’d feel better if we had some way, somewhere to direct them to that information.”

He proposed for such a sign to go at the Y-intersection as people enter Lake Cowichan.

Traynor also reported that the Stewardship group has been very active over the last six years. They’ve worked with more than 40 shoreline property owners, he said, to re-establish native vegetation along the shoreline. That program is now winding down.

“Some of those sites have been within the confines of the town of Lake Cowichan, and we also want to thank Coun. Sandhu and Coun. Austin for participating in the recent tour that we did to get a good idea of what we’ve been up to.

The group is also working to rescue salmon fry from tributaries to Cowichan Lake that are drying up early.

“Just to let you know the scale, last year that combined team of Cowichan Tribes, CLRSS, and Cowichan Salmonid Enhancement Society moved over 100,000 fry back into the lake from the tributaries. There probably won’t be as many this year because we had that really dry spell in February and March that really hammered some of the spawning beds so there aren’t as many fry coming up. But there are still lots of them to be chased down right now.

“We figure the lake is at about 21 per cent full today [June 18] and pumping over the weir is definitely on the horizon. I understand Brian Houle [of Catalyst] is chasing pumps across the country.”

The group is also planning a river clean-up for Aug. 18, partnering with the Lake Cowichan 75th Anniversary Committee for Watershed Day.

“It could, of course, be a challenging day if we’re out in the river while they’re pumping over the weir. It could be an interesting weekend around that.”

The Lake and River Stewardship group has been 10 years active “so we’re planning a revisiting exercise with community members for Sept. 8. The idea is that it’s been 10 years since our foundation so it’s a good time to check in with the community on what’s been accomplished and also what still needs doing. We’d welcome any contributions the council and town would make towards that exercise,” Traynor said.

“We still get comments from riverfront folks raising concern about tubing impacts, as it’s been increasing. We meet each year with the tubing companies at the beginning of the season to discuss the issues with them. This year we are also working with the BC Conservation Foundation to begin a water sampling program. This would indentify whether there are sunscreen residues in the lake. It’s a growing concern. If you’ve been to Mexico or Hawaii you may have encountered the problems with sunscreen affecting corals reefs and so on. We have the same degree of concern but there isn’t much real hard science yet on residues on fresh water systems like ours. We’ll be working on that and we’ll keep you informed of anything that we find,” he said.

The official opening of the Gerald Thom Memorial Indigenous Plants Garden is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17 from 12 to 12:30 p.m., Traynor noted.

“We really appreciate that your crews have been watering the plants. We’ve got a whole set of signs to identify the plants that will be going in. We also hoped that some directional signage could be put in to help people find the park,” Traynor told councillors.

The group has also been busy sampling water from the lake and upper river, in collaboration with the watershed board and the Ministry of Environment, in both summer and fall.

“What we found was that there were slightly elevated e-coli levels in the upper river in the summer and using drinking-water standards. You wouldn’t be concerned swimming there but if you were taking water out of it, you would be. In the winter sampling, at the weir, you got major high levels of e-coli where the water comes over the weir.

“The speculation is that you’re re-mobilizing settlements when you get all that turbulence happening coming over the weir and Dr. David Preikshot from the Somenos Marsh Society who oversaw the science side of the water sampling we’re doing, he feels it’s definitely something that we’d want to check on with Catalyst when they start up their pumps. In November, we’re not too worried about too many swimmers in the Duck Pond but in the middle of August it might be a different question.

“That’s just something to put on your radar: that you are all aware of that,” he said.