Work to bring a new weir to Cowichan Lake to control water flows into the Cowichan River has started.
“On behalf of the project partners, we are all very relieved to see this project come to fruition and reiterate our thanks to our senior governments for their funding support,” said Aaron Stone, chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and co-chair of the Cowichan Watershed Board. “As our Cowichan climate becomes increasingly warmer and drier, maintaining adequate river flows in our key watersheds will be critical to the health of our region going forward.”
The CVRD announced Wednesday, April 22 that a contract has been awarded to Stantec Engineering Services to do designs, engineering and studies needed to build the new weir.
“The existing weir structure, constructed in the 1950s, is no longer capable of storing enough water to maintain flows in the Cowichan River during increasingly dryer summer and fall months,” said a press release from the CVRD. “The project follows many years of study, and will support future grant applications for the necessary funding to construct a new weir.”
The CVRD also announced that local resident Leroy Van Wieren, who has extensive experience managing large and complex projects, has been hired by the CVRD as the project manager.
The CVRD is directing the project on behalf of partners Cowichan Tribes, Paper Excellence and the Cowichan Watershed Board, and is being funded, in part, by a joint provincial and federal grant from the British Columbia Salmomn Recovery Innovation Fund announced in 2019.
The new weir project comes from recommendations of the Cowichan Watershed Management Plan (2009) and the Cowichan Water Use Plan (2018), which address the issues facing the long term health of the Cowichan River system and provide direction on how much water should be stored in Cowichan Lake to maintain adequate flows in the Cowichan River during increasingly dry conditions.
Droughts during the summer months and well into the fall have become commonplace in Cowichan, and Paper Excellence, which currently operates the weir, has had to pump water over it from the lake into the river during those dry months to maintain minimum water flows.
Design and engineering of a new weir, and removal strategies for the existing structure, are expected to take up to two years with several opportunities for public input. The second phase of the project, to assess any potential impacts of a new weir on the foreshore and properties adjacent to Cowichan Lake, is scheduled to begin in May 2020. These two projects will provide an understanding of the costs and impacts of a new weir and will inform the process for issuing a new water licence.
The current COVID-19 pandemic should have little to no impact to the proposed project schedule, as the majority of this work can be coordinated remotely through integrated IT systems, the CVRD said. Opportunities for the public to provide input remotely is currently being considered and designed.