LIVING WATER SMART ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: Cowichan Water Use Plan Unveiled for Cowichan Region
Note to Reader:
A public planning process to develop a Cowichan Water Use Plan is underway with residents, businesses and community groups in the Cowichan Valley. The planning process has explored opportunities to better ensure water resources are sustainable and available to meet future water needs. The initiative is a partnership of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Watershed Board and Catalyst Paper.
Adapting to a Changing Climate
After months of deliberation, the Cowichan Water Use planning process has resulted in recommendations for water supply and storage options for the Cowichan Lake and River system. Recommendations were presented during a public meeting held in the Town of Lake Cowichan on June 11, 2018.
Water use and supply in the Cowichan Lake and Cowichan River system has long been a source of concern for residents of the Cowichan region. The impacts of climate change, including hotter, drier summers and lower snowpacks, have already resulted in one-third less water flowing into Cowichan Lake than when the weir was originally constructed in the 1950’s.
“During many years, there has no longer been enough water to support the varied needs of fish, local residents, industry and other users. By 2050 critical snow pack is projected to decrease by 85%, reducing lake inflows in the spring and early summer. This will be compounded by a reduction in summer rainfall of 17%,” said Jon Lefebure, Cowichan Valley Regional District Board Chair. “Further, water storage to support continued flow in most years will not be possible in the future without additional storage and adjusted management regimes.”
Assessment of Alternatives
A community planning process to explore options was initiated by a partnership of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Watershed Board and Catalyst Paper.
Further, a 19 member Public Advisory Group (PAG) that includes representatives from local, provincial and federal governments, First Nations, industry, local community and interest groups and area residents has been meeting since November to evaluate potential water supply and storage options for the Cowichan Lake and River system.
The PAG carefully assessed the alternatives and the tradeoffs for ensuring adequate flows and water levels for fish and other aquatic species, avoiding flood risk for lakefront property owners, and minimizing impacts on water users on the lake and river.
At its final meeting in May 2018, the PAG reached consensus on a preferred water use alternative, presenting its proposed recommendations during the public information session on June 11, 2018.
To Learn More:
More information on the Cowichan Water Use planning process can be found at cowichanwup.ca
About the Water Supply System
The current Cowichan water management system and weir – implemented and constructed in the 1950s – no longer has the capability to reliably support the varied water uses that have come to be expected in the region. Three out of the last four summers have been droughts; in 2016, lake levels were so low in September that pumps were installed with the anticipation of pumping lake water to increase flows to the river. These events will be much more common in the future!
Climate change is the key driver that has resulted in a third less water coming into Cowichan Lake since the 1960s. This drying trend is only expected to worsen in coming years with longer drier summers (with about 17% less rain in the summers and 85% decrease in snowpack depth by the 2050s) and warmer water temperatures.