Year in Review: Drought had Valley thirsting for rainfall

Water — specifically a lack of it — was big news through the spring, summer and fall of 2015.

Water — specifically a lack of it — was big news through the spring, summer and fall of 2015.

Water watchers began warning Cowichan Valley residents even before the days began to warm from winter’s chill that we were most likely facing a significant drought again over the summer and into fall, and their prognostications proved to be true.

By the end of June the provincial River Forecast Centre had issued low streamflow advisories for the Koksilah, Chemainus and Cowichan Rivers.

This in spite of the fact that, in anticipation of a bad year, officials started a month earlier than usual limiting the amount of water coming out of Cowichan Lake into the Cowichan River through the weir.

There was no snow pack, after a warm winter, to augment flows.

“We have to manage a long dry season with the water that’s behind the weir,” Cowichan Valley Regional District chair Jon Lefebure said. “We’re trying to save it because we have to be ready for the worst case scenario. That’s the kind of planning we have to do.”

The Cowichan Watershed Board presented the Valley with its own water superhero, Flo, who undertook an education campaign, and even starred in a series of articles for the ‘Citizen’ where she interviewed residents who are in the forefront of water conservation. Water conservation was going to be crucial to keeping the river running, so the CVRD also launched a new website full of ideas on ways residents could save water.

By the end of August, Catalyst Paper, the operator of the weir, reduced river flows to 4.7 cubic metres per second.

“We’re to the same flow we were at last year at this time. As long as we continue to get an annual drought we’ll be in this situation of annual reductions,” warned Brian Houle, Catalys Crofton’s environment manager.

The rains finally did come in the fall, but the CVRD, and Catalyst, weren’t done with the subject.

Catalyst has put forward a proposal to install pumps to allow them to pump water from behind the weir to aid with water flows during what everyone is expecting will be the years of summer droughts to come.

The CVRD, meanwhile, is looking seriously at the idea of taking steps to, in partnership with other groups, take more control over the Cowichan watershed.