Water levels in Cowichan Lake continue to drop, despite some rain in recent days.
Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said the lake level is down about 2.5 inches since pumping began on Aug. 29, and the lake is dropping by about 0.55 cm (approximately a quarter of an inch) each day while the weather remains dry.
It’s been projected that water levels in the lake could drop by as much as 20 inches if dry conditions continue and the pumps stay in action for a long period of time.
“Weather forecast shows very high probability of heavy rainfall in Lake Cowichan on (Sept. 12) and, hopefully, the western reaches of the lake get the torrential rainfall that can arrive at this time of year,” Houle said.
“Pumping will continue while the weather remains dry and the lake level remains below empty.”
Catalyst’s Crofton pulp mill, which depends on water from the Cowichan River to run its operations, began pumping water over its weir last month for the first time after the region didn’t get sufficient rain this season to raise the water levels in the lake.
The region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades and water basins in the region, including Cowichan Lake, are only getting a fraction of the water they used to get in spring and summer.
Houle gave an assessment of how bad 2019 has been so far.
“From Feb. 1 to Sept. 9, the Cowichan River has been provided 60 per cent less water than was provided in 2016, the previous worst ever drought year,” he said.
“With 60 per cent less water released from the lake and with the lake level much lower than it was in 2016, 2019 is redefining how dry the weather can be in our region and climate change is the root cause of less water.”
House said issues with safety at the boat lock adjacent to the weir have resulted in it being shut down until the safety issues could be addressed.
He said the safety issues are related to the new water currents provided by the nearby pumps.
“The safety issue was on the river side only and improvements to the boat lock are being installed this week,” he said.
“It’s hopeful the boat lock will be re-opened this week.”