Editorial: Low water levels in Cowichan Lake worrying

This is the time of year when the lake is usually filled to capacity and beyond.

As Catalyst’s Graham Kissack so memorably put it, “we don’t need to light out hair on fire yet”, but the level of water in Cowichan Lake is highly concerning.

The Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable has reported it’s only at about 40 per cent capacity, a level not usually seen until August. What it will mean when it really is August is what’s so worrying.

This is the time of year when the lake is usually filled to capacity and beyond. Other years have seen flooding along the lake and river during this period. Even then we’ve still experienced summer droughts that have led to dangerously dry conditions along the Cowichan River that have threatened fish, drinking water and more, as snow pack is nature’s storage system, and when snow pack is low there is less water for later in the season. Cowichan Valley Regional District chair Ian Morrison tells us that snow pack is also a concern this year.

A few good, wet storms can certainly still change conditions significantly. But so far we’ve had an unusually dry winter and there’s no guarantee that will change as we head into spring.

This is a problem that raising the weir won’t fix. We can only store water behind the weir at Cowichan Lake if there is water there to store in the first place.

While the information we have is specifically for the Cowichan Lake and river system, we can only surmise that conditions in other lakes are showing similar lows.

Which brings us to the point that it’s never too early in the year to begin conserving water. We would certainly hope that nobody is yet watering their lawns and gardens, which would be a terrible waste. Some, especially up at Cowichan Lake, are still under a snow cover.

But it seems like a good idea, under the circumstances, to pull out a few of the water conservation methods you might otherwise reserve for summer, such as not washing the car as often, and if you do, not leaving the hose running while you do it. Maybe think twice before getting out the power washer. Shorten up your showers and remember to turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth.

If you have a system to store water yourself in cisterns or barrels, it would be a good time to make sure you’re filling to capacity.

We can no longer afford, even in winter, to behave as if our water supply is endless. Taking action now, even if it turns out not to be necessary later on, is the smart thing to do.

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