We are experiencing longer, hotter and dryer summers with less precipitation and less snow. Low summer water levels in the Cowichan River have put salmon populations at serious risk and threatened closure of the Paper Excellence Crofton pulp and paper mill. Low water levels also mean less water reaching the aquifer that supplies Duncan and other communities in the Cowichan Valley, and less water to dilute treated sewage discharges in the river. At the same time, the population and the economy of the Cowichan Valley is growing, creating increasing demands for adequate, clean water supplies. Climate change has affected rainfall patterns and precipitation levels for our region, increasing water management challenges.
So how do we make sure there is enough water for all our needs today and in the future? To help answer that question, a partnership of government, industry, First Nations and community interests worked together in 2009 to develop the Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan. Following Provincial guidelines, a Water Use Plan Public Advisory Group was formed in 2017. The outcome of these initiatives is a recommendation to raise the weir at Cowichan Lake to increase the water storage during the late spring and summer seasons. Two projects are now proceeding to support that recommendation — Design and Engineer a new Weir and conduct a Shoreline Assessment Study to understand the impact of operating a new weir.
In response to increasing frequency of critically low summer flows in the Cowichan River, a Water Use Plan (WUP) for Cowichan Lake and Cowichan River was completed in the Spring of 2018. Beginning in the Fall of 2017, the WUP was developed by a Public Advisory Group and provides a balanced, long term solution for storing water on Cowichan Lake in order to maintain sufficient water flows in the Cowichan River into the future. The key recommendation is to construct a new weir with an increase of 70 cm of elevation above the existing weir.