Unlike many coastal watersheds, there is an option for our community to be resilient in the face of climate change, and keep our river flowing for generations.
Understanding the Problem
The Cowichan Water Use Planning Process was an extensive community exploration in 2017-2018 of the problems, needs, and options for solutions regarding the future of the Cowichan water situation. It was lead by a partnership of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Watershed Board and Catalyst Paper.
The lengthy process involved a 19 member Public Advisory Group (PAG) including representatives from local, provincial and federal governments, First Nations, industry, stewardship and interest groups, and area residents.
This is Climate Change
The PAG and its sub-committees had expert help in applying and understanding “downscaled” (regionally relevant) climate projections from the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium and CVRD, and what this all means for the future of water supplies in the Cowichan watershed.
Most local residents are already very aware that our local climate now includes wetter winters and longer, drier summers. Drought conditions have resulted in the river water levels being below the provincially acceptable flow levels (established through Catalyst’s water license) in five of the past six summers. The studies indicate there has been a significant drop in inflows to Lake Cowichan during the summer since the 1960s. Looking ahead, these conditions are predicted to worsen. Snowpack, which helps provide a steady source of water in the spring as is melts, is expected to be non-existent in April in the future. See the CVRD website for an indepth report on Cowichan’s Changing Climate.
Consensus on Solution
The group discussed and evaluated potential water supply and storage options for the Cowichan Lake and River system. After careful consideration of the tradeoffs between ensuring adequate flows for fish and other aquatic species, avoiding any increase to flood risk for lakeshore residents, and minimizing impacts on water users on the lake and river, the group agreed that replacing the current weir with a higher structure was needed.
The solution is not without costs, but it is achievable and the least costly in the long run. The PAG also fully considered the cost of doing nothing, and concluded that had greater consequences.
“Climate change and the changing nature of hydrology forecast for the watershed by the 2050s (or sooner) will lead to significant impacts regardless if action is taken or not. The PAG fully considered the “Do Nothing” option during the evaluation process, but felt the impacts of not making any changes to the weir or its operations were the worst and most unacceptable across all the options considered.” (Source: Cowichan Water Use Planning Process Summary and Recommendations July 2018)
Stay tuned for more details on the process ahead.
How to Help
- Volunteer with Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society to help educate more people about how the weir works, and why we need to replace it. We have door-hangers that can be used to build awareness, and let people know about this website so they can find more information.
- Conserve Water at home and try to get a water conservation program implemented, or improved, at work.
- Use the Weir Ready logo to show your support and when opportunities arise to express that support, be ready!