The River Needs Your Voice Again

We are what we drink.  According to Wikipedia, our bodies are about two thirds water.  It varies by age, sex and weight with newborns being the highest percentage at three quarters, we are all made mostly of water. 

If you live in the Cowichan Valley and you drink our water you are made mostly of the water you see falling from the sky, moving through all the tributaries into the river and our magnificent lake.  The groundwater and aquifers are all connected and filled with Cowichan water.  Every living thing you see here has at least some Cowichan water in it.  Water is one of the things that connect us all to the natural world.

Is it any wonder that so many of us are fighting hard to protect our water resources?  Working together we have made significant progress with the CVRD now applying for funds to reconstruct the weir to enable more water storage in the summer.  Our community has never been more aware of the importance of a healthy watershed. 

Over the past few weeks I have attended several meetings where serious concerns have been expressed about the potential severe drought we are facing this year.  The lake remains below full storage and there is no snow pack this year to replenish it.  We have had to reduce the river flow to about half of what it should be to conserve water. 

This reduced flow is harmful to the salmon and steelhead fry now just starting their life cycles.  Fry are being stranded in drying pools and much of their critical habitat is now lost in a shrinking river.  We are already losing thousands of fry but we have to accept this loss in order to increase our chances of having any water left at all in the fall. 

Those of us who are made of Cowichan water understand the crisis we are facing again this year and we are doing all we can to plan for water conservation.  Unfortunately we are still at the mercy of people who are clearly not made of Cowichan water.

The Nanaimo-based BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) bureaucrats have once again denied water licence holder Catalyst’s request for flexibility in the water storage rules.  If we are lucky and get significant spring rains we will again be forced to dump any extra water into the ocean instead of holding it back for use when it will be critically important in the fall. 

We are now on track to repeat the dark history of 2012 when these same bureaucrats forced us to dump water in July and August against the wishes of our community.

Many of our community leaders, First Nations, CVRD Directors, businesses and conservation groups are very frustrated by this decision.  I cannot think of any rationale that would support dumping water in a severe drought.  There is no snow pack, so we are not at risk of flooding.  The lake is currently about four feet below the average winter high water level. 

Are the FLNRO staff members not aware of the crisis in all Vancouver Island rivers this summer that will be caused by lack of snow?  Have they not seen any reports from BC Hydro expressing concerns for the Puntledge and Campbell rivers where they have reduced power generation to 20% and are worried about providing critical flows in the fall for salmon?  Have they not seen the disturbing images of dry reservoirs in California?  Do they understand the effects of climate change we are all seeing? 

They are forcing adherence to an arbitrary “rule curve” designed using now irrelevant 50 year old climate data.  The rule curve should be abolished entirely.  If we have water in the lake we need to conserve as much of it as we can.

These bureaucrats are always invited to attend meetings held by the Stewardship Roundtable, Watershed Board, Flows Working Group and others where we discuss the science behind our concerns over water but they never show up.  They don’t even bother to call in and listen via the phone at the weekly conference calls led by Catalyst about river flow and lake level concerns. 

How is it possible that those who ignore our concerns have such power over our precious water resources and we, as a community, have almost none?

I think they need to change or be changed, we cannot afford to keep repeating the same mistakes year after year.

A long list of community organizations, First Nations and private citizens are now appealing directly to FLNRO Minister Steve Thomson to assist us in our efforts to gain some flexibility in our water storage rules to enable us to keep any water we may get in what is projected to be a very dry and hot summer. 

If you share our concerns over this crisis in water governance I would encourage you to take a few minutes to send your concerns to Minister Steve Thomson as well. You could simply ask that he allow us to keep any water we get this spring by allowing flexibility in our storage rules, his email address is [email protected]

I am optimistic that the collective impact of these letters from our community will lead to a review of these unfathomable decisions made by FLNRO staff about our water. 

The water that makes us who we are is more valuable than money.  It is life itself.  Every drop of pure Cowichan water stored in our lake makes us a wealthier and healthier community.  Please join with us to protect our water and enrich our community.