One of the many things I love about the Cowichan Valley is the degree of cooperation we have among government agencies, industry, First Nations and volunteer groups.
As co-chair of the Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable I have the privilege to witness this unique level of awareness and information sharing at our monthly meetings. We are generally focused on environmental concerns and we coordinate our activities with the long-term goal of preserving and protecting the health of our watershed.
The Cowichan Watershed Board consists of elected officials, government representatives, First Nations and technical advisors with a similar mandate to evaluate the health of our watershed and work with all levels of government to suggest solutions designed to improve it.
For decades we have understood that we must increase water storage in Cowichan Lake to provide sufficient water resources for not only the watershed ecosystems but also for industry, agriculture and domestic use. We can see the effect of climate change on our watershed already, our summer precipitation has decreased by 35% since the 1980’s and our snow pack is decreasing and melting much earlier than in the past.
For details of the flow problems and proposed solutions, take a look at the short Cowichan Watershed Board video “Go with the Flow” on YouTube.
Based on this science, the number one objective of the Cowichan Watershed Board is to increase summer water storage in order to provide adequate water resources for future generations and for the health of our watershed.
There is broad based consensus among all stakeholders that we must find a way to accomplish this goal. The recent string of summer droughts underlines the urgency of the situation.
The weir is currently owned and operated by Catalyst to provide sufficient water in the summer for their operations and to provide drinking water to the town of Crofton. They hold the provincial water license to store water in summer under strict regulations.
Catalyst has so far been able to keep their operations running with the existing weir but future prospects are not good. To date, Catalyst has been unwilling to shoulder the responsibility and expense of increasing summer water storage alone. They prefer to work with all levels of government to accomplish this goal. I have to agree that it is not ideal to have a private company in complete control with 100% ownership of critical watershed infrastructure.
We must find a way to engage senior levels of government in the process of preserving our watershed resources. There has been little or no interest expressed by federal or provincial authorities. Someone has to knock on their doors and ask for help. It makes sense for our community, represented by the CVRD, to take on this task.
In a recent op-ed piece, CRVD area I director Klaus Kuhn expressed his concerns over this CVRD initiative. I have talked with Klaus about this issue and I have always agreed with him on one point, local taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for this initiative alone. We will need significant financial participation and support from senior levels of government.
Mr. Kuhn represents the Youbou area where his constituents that have waterfront property will be affected by slightly increased summer water levels. The CVRD has extensive data on water levels and the concerns of any property owners will have to be heard and addressed as part of this process.
I take issue with some of Mr. Kuhn’s statements. He wrote; ”If there is concern about an insufficient supply of water for the Crofton Mill, the fish or the replenishment of the aquafers (sic) then the BC government and Catalyst should solve the problem, it is theirs”
The BC government does not seem to consider this to be their problem and Catalyst needs some help with it. This is our problem; this is our main water supply. Our community is directly affected every summer there is a drought. If the water storage issue is not addressed soon we will see serious degradation of all watershed ecosystems.
He also stated; “After peering through the smokescreen of climate change, low river levels, the sky is falling, etc., there is only one goal. That goal is to raise the weir and increase your property taxes to pay for it.”
Climate change is real, it is here and it is going to affect every aspect of our lives going forward. The only smokescreen involved is the smoke from increasing forest fires.
I would argue that it is not the goal of the CVRD to pay for the weir and it’s operation alone. The goal is to get the process started and engage all levels of government financially to support our water resources. Without this important step, we cannot even apply for senior government grants (i.e. gas tax funds) for watershed projects.
The CVRD wants to hear from you on these issues about the state of our watershed. There will be public consultations happening over the next few weeks and they have launched an online public engagement program. You can have your voice heard at a new website www.placespeak.com/Cowichan.
We all pay taxes for swimming pools and hockey rinks, neither of which work very well without water. We have a clear and present danger in our community and we need to address it quickly. Let’s pull together to find a solution we all can support to ensure our grandchildren can enjoy the wonderful community we have for all of their lives.
Written by Parker Jefferson with additional comments by Rosalie Sawrie