It is a good time of year to look around us and realize what a beautiful place we live in. The recent stretch of beautiful weather just underlines this feeling and it is even sweeter this year because of the rains we got in September. Our river and lake are in great shape, in stark contrast to last year at this time. Those of us in the Stewardship community can relax and enjoy this fine weather because the September gift of water has filled our coffers and there is plenty of water in the river for the returning salmon.
The slight change in the water storage rules we have for the weir did make a difference in August, allowing us to be at the same level we had last year in spite of a rainless July, but if we had not received the huge bonus rainfall in September we would once again be in trouble with low river flows and dying salmon.
The September rains prompted the returning salmon to enter the river early and the counting fence showed very strong numbers of fish until the rising river overtopped it on September 29th. The attendants tried their best to count the fish that were swimming over the fence, but it soon became impossible and the counting had to be abandoned at the peak of the run. The 3112 adults counted before the fence went out is the highest number of Chinooks counted since 2001 and the DFO expects to see more salmon on the spawning beds than we have seen in over 10 years. The bottom-line this year is that because we have lots of water in the river all species of salmon will benefit and produce many more fish for future years.
The future is something we must all start thinking about and planning for, especially where our water resources are concerned. The recent UN report on climate change, which could be the most stringently peer reviewed document in human history, confirms what many have thought. Our world is on track for some significant changes in the coming decades, but each area will have its own particular set of circumstances that will dictate how it will be affected.
This is the good part of a bad news situation. We are very lucky here, with our huge, deep pure supply of fresh water in Cowichan Lake. We are surrounded by ocean that will mitigate the increasing temperatures we experience, and we should see a gradual warming. We will need to take steps to manage our water supply as well as is humanly possible, which should include local control, but if we do, we could create the new Napa Valley.
We currently grow less than 20% of the food we consume in our community. With some added irrigation and a warming climate we could certainly up that number significantly. This will become increasingly important with the inevitable rise in fuel prices and food transportation costs sure to come in the future. We are going to have to become more self sufficient in food production on Vancouver Island, and the Cowichan Valley could become a major food-producing region, just add water.
Our Watershed Board, Cowichan Tribes and the CVRD are taking steps to ensure our water wealth is secure far into the future. They are considering a joint application for a water license to store an additional 20 centimeters of water behind the weir during the summer control period. One centimeter of water in our lake is enough to fill our river at 7 cubic meters per second for one day. This increased summer storage will add insurance that our river will not run dry in coming fall seasons, but it is no guarantee.
Climate predictions for our valley have us getting warmer and wetter winters with hotter and drier summers. In terms of our water “income” we are going to be very well paid during the winter months, but we will be have little or no increase in water “wealth” all summer. We will need to build a bigger bank to hold all the water we get during the winter and slowly draw on it all summer and fall. This can be done by adding additional storage to the weir. We need to start talking about raising the weir in order to secure and increase our water supplies. We will not need to have summer storage higher than the water goes naturally each winter, but the more of our water wealth we can hold in the lake, the richer and more productive our community will be in the future.