Catalyst began pumping water over the weir as planned on Cowichan Lake at 11 a.m. on Aug. 29.
Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said 13 of the 20 pumps that have been installed at the weir were required to keep the water in the Cowichan River flowing at the required 4.5 cubic metres per second.
“It all went very smoothly,” Houle said.
“The pumps are operating very quietly, making only the noise of a small waterfall. We had some spectators and media on hand to watch us start the pumps up.”
The decision to turn on the pumps was made after it was determined that the water level in the Cowichan River is continuing its downward trend and the pumps were needed prior to the conclusion of the Labour Day long weekend.
House said the water levels in Cowichan Lake will continue to slowly decline as a result of dry weather and due to the sustained 4.5 CMS flow leaving the lake.
Pumping will continue for as long as it’s required to sustain the river with a 4.5 CMS flow, and the shift of the river flow from gravity feed to electrically energized pump feed will have no impact on conditions in the river.
Catalyst’s Crofton pulp mill, which depends on water from the Cowichan River to run its operations, has been planning to begin pumping water over its weir for weeks if the region didn’t get sufficient rain to raise the water levels in the lake and river.
The region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades and water basins in the region, including Cowichan Lake, are only getting about two-thirds of the water they used to get in spring and summer.
Houle said that when the wet weather returns and the lake level again rises to higher levels that will support 4.5 CMS by gravity feed, the pumps will be turned off and the river flow will revert back to normal.
“It’s supposed to rain this weekend, but we don’t know if it will be enough to raise water levels and allow us to turn off the pumps,” he said.
“It’s all a matter of how much rain Mother Nature wants to give us.”
Catalyst is also warning boaters on Cowichan Lake to operate their craft with “extreme caution” now that the pumping has begun.
Water levels in Cowichan Lake are expected to drop by as much as 20 inches, and that could uncover unexpected navigational hazards in the lake.
Houle said officials have been marking the hazards to navigation in Cowichan Lake that have been uncovered in the shallower water.
“Boaters are encouraged to use extreme caution in Cowichan Lake due to the many hazards at these low lake levels,” he said
Chuck Walls, general manager at Catalyst Crofton, said the company has been collaboratively managing the Cowichan River since 2002 with First Nations, local government and other key stakeholders.
“Working together, we can get through this latest drought,” he said.
“Our top priorities are the protection of Cowichan Lake, Cowichan River and the town’s water supply.”