Lori Iannidinardo, guest columnist
The Cowichan River has been suffering through worrisome yearly summer droughts over the past five years.
While conditions may vary some from year to year, the trend is not expected to get better. Many people in our community are deeply concerned about our salmon, our water supply and the future of our heritage river. There is no doubt action is needed. Raising the weir at Cowichan Lake to store more water so we can respond to critically low flows when they occur has emerged as one of the needed solutions. The big questions are: who is responsible for getting it done and who pays?
The weir was built back in the 1950s to provide water for the Crofton mill. The weir now also contributes to managing and sustaining essential river flows for our human and fish and wildlife populations. These essential uses are much more than were anticipated in the ’50s.
Catalyst owns and operates the weir today, working together with the local government and Cowichan Tribes in acknowledgement of these wider community needs. But the real power and authority belongs to the province. The provincial government has the water legislation and the regulations that control our river’s flows.
They also have a duty to act in the public interest. Yet we’ve been fighting with provincial regulators to get them to act in our community’s interest since 2012. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans also has a mandate to protect our salmon and their critical habitat. We didn’t see much action from them during the Harper years.
It is time we got both the provincial and the federal governments to act on their responsibilities and step up with the resources that are needed. Christy Clark’s Liberal government would be more than happy to download provincial responsibilities to local government, and also to download the costs to our community. That is not OK.
The CVRD and Cowichan Tribes have both shown years of leadership in advocating for the Cowichan River and our communities’ water needs. But we haven’t done that so that the province can leave us to buy water licences and pay a bill that is rightly theirs. All levels of government need to work together, and the provincial and federal governments need to step up. If in the end it turns out the CVRD needs a service function in order to accept provincial resources or federal infrastructure funding, we must proceed with great care. We must be clear that we will not accept a “download” of responsibility unless higher levels of government pony up the resources needed to follow through on that responsibility so that we are not burdening our citizens with the cost.
Let’s stand together as a community in calling on both the provincial and federal governments to step up.
Lori Iannidinardo is the Cowichan Valley Regional District area director for Area D, Cowichan Bay.