It has long been discussed, but it sounds now like raising the height of the weir at Lake Cowichan to hold more water in reserve in the lake to feed the river during increasingly dry summers is coming closer to reality.
The Cowichan Water Use Plan was unveiled at a meeting in Lake Cowichan on June 11 — appropriately so, as the recommended measures, should they be adopted, could have a significant impact on the area.
Cowichan Lake is the heart of the watershed. Climate change, and deforestation of hills through logging have combined to create a negative impact on flows in and out, especially felt on the Cowichan River in summertime.
Fast-melting snowpack and long summer droughts have seriously endangered the flow of the Cowichan River, creating a situation where there is not enough water stored from the wet winter months for the months when the rain dries up.
For the last several years, Catalyst, which operates the weir, has been days away from putting pumps into operation to get water over the weir to prevent the Cowichan River from running dry.
The river, like the lake, is a vital lifeline that runs through many Valley communities. It provides water for drinking, sewage treatment, cultural purposes, salmon and other fish and water species, industry, recreation and more. The bottom line is that it cannot be allowed to die.
Hence why the 19-member public advisory group has come to the conclusion that the weir should be raised 30 centimetres immediately, with a longer-term maximum weir height increase to 70 centimetres. It’s not the first time there’s been talk of raising the weir. But this time, compensation has been recommended for affected property owners around the lake, should they lose land area to increased water levels. That’s a first in recent memory. That’s pretty concrete, rather than just speculative, and we think it indicates a real seriousness about imminent action.
Even with compensation on the table, raising the weir will likely not be popular with everyone up at the lake. But the projections are too severe not to take action.
By 2050 critical snow pack is anticipated to decrease by a whopping 85 per cent, while summer rainfall also declines by 17 per cent. Combined, that is a death sentence for the river as things now stand. It’s too important not to do something.