Water Woman Takes a Raincheque

raindrops-crop.jpgNEWS RELEASE

Date:  November 3, 2014

Water Woman Takes a Rain-Cheque

(Duncan) Cowichan’s favourite super-hero swept through the valley one final time last week. After visiting children at Bench Elementary and strolling her native Cowichan Bay shoreline, she dropped by the Lake Cowichan weir to take a hopeful look at what may soon eliminate the worst threats of drought for the Cowichan River....

[See photos at www.facebook.com/CowichanWaterChallenge]

This Summer in Review: 

2014 was one of the driest years on record in the Cowichan Valley. Low snowpack and a dry spring and summer caused Cowichan Lake to hit record lows. With neither the lake nor feeder streams delivering enough water this summer, it is estimated that the Cowichan River would have gotten very dry this summer had the Catalyst weir not been available to store and slow outflows from the lake.

The minimum summer water flow level for the Cowichan River is 7 cubic meters per second. When flows fall below this rate:

-          fish habitat is lost due to side-channels drying,

-          temperatures increase and the amount of wetted habitat is reduced;

-          dilution of sewage and other inputs is reduced and water quality can be a concern;

-          Cowichan Tribes’ spiritual, cultural, and fisheries connections with the river are jeopardized;

-          salmon migration is impeded and they are more easily preyed upon; and

-          community relationships are tested, which can potentially have far-reaching impacts.

The Cowichan Watershed Board’s “Flows Working Group”, chaired by Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest met regularly through the summer and early fall to hear updates on water levels and to make recommendations regarding the drought -- ways to address it and ways to learn from it.

“I’m so impressed by how people managed to work respectfully through this difficult time,” says Rodger Hunter, Cowichan Watershed Board Coordinator. “Despite dire circumstances, our government reps, Cowichan Tribes, industry and stewardship groups came together to find agreement on how to use the lake water reserves as strategically as possible to keep water flowing until the fall rains returned.  The Flows Committee is to be commended for averting disaster, not only for the river, but for community relationships.”

“The Watershed Board didn’t have the resources to fully address the issue and so the CVRD stepped in to do some of the heavy lifting,” says Hunter.

Water Woman spent the summer working with residents to help us develop better water conservation habits at home. She secured pledges to reduce water use, spoke with hundreds of people at community events, visited with children at summer camps and schools, talked to community leaders, and tested a lot of toilets for leaks!

Water Woman was not alone though. Local politicians and stewardship groups pitched in. Six other local super-heroes deserve special mention for their contributions:

-          The late Gerald Thom remains widely respected as one of the Cowichan watershed’s greatest champions. This summer he spearheaded a project to restore critical shoreline habitats to help the aquatic species weather warmer summers.  Gerald died tragically in August and is greatly missed but the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society that he led continues his important work.

-          Ross Forrest led the consensus-based Flows Committee to find respectful cooperation in stressful times, avoiding one of the worst potential impacts of drought -- a divided community.

-          David Slade, a Cowichan Watershed Board volunteer, made ten presentations to water providers across the valley, as part of the Cowichan Water Conservation Challenge. The Challenge aims to reduce valley-wide domestic water usage to maximum 246 litres per person per day (or a 20% reduction in overall water use) catching up to the region’s current water conservation leaders – Ladysmith and Mill Bay.

-          Tim Kulchyski and the Cowichan Tribes fisheries crew made sure the Flows Committee had up-to-date information on how the salmon were faring with the reduced water flows.

-          Joe Saysell and others spent days voluntarily rescuing fish from drying side-channels by carefully and knowledgeably moving them to safer habitat. Saysell saved thousands of fish that would have otherwise died in hot, dry riverbeds.

-          CVRD staff did great work exploring options to address the drought and coordinating fund-raising and monitoring activities.

“This summer could have been an absolute disaster,” says Hunter. “We avoided a major catastrophe by the skin of our teeth”

Looking Forward

The CVRD is now moving towards a plan to raise the height of the weir to help reduce future risks from the trend towards drier summers. Staff has been directed to study the impacts and make recommendations about the optimal height of the weir.  

Maintaining a flow of 7m3/s lowers the lake level by approximately 1 cm/day.  A higher weir at Lake Cowichan could have averted the problems of this summer.  

With a twinkle in her eye, leaving as she arrived, Water Woman snuck back into Duncan City Hall last weekend to plan her escape. It is a mystery where our beloved Super-Hero will go next, or whether she will return next spring, but the heavy October rains meant that she and all of the other water heroes of the Cowichan could breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Media Contacts:

David Slade, Drillwell Enterprises, Cowichan Watershed Board member / 250-746-5268

Rob Hutchins, CVRD Chairperson, Cowichan Watershed Board Co-Chair / rhutchins@shaw.ca

Rodger Hunter, Cowichan Watershed Board Coordinator / 250-710-7139

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