Low water levels in Cowichan Lake raising concerns

Reduced flow could put salmon run at risk

  • Apr. 26, 2016 9:00 a.m.

Robert BarronBlack Press

Low water levels in Cowichan Lake again this spring have spurred dialogue about the need to increase water-storage capacity in the lake.

Members of the Cowichan Watershed Board’s fish and flow committee are scheduled to meet on Monday for the first time this year, and discussion of the ongoing water-storage issues in the lake are expected to be a top priority.

The water level in Cowichan Lake is reported to be well below what it was last year at this time, and that’s connected to the fact that the snow pack in the surrounding mountains is only about two-thirds of what it usually is at this point in the spring.

Catalyst Paper operates the boat lock and weir on Cowichan Lake and the forest company has a water licence to adjust the outflow of water from the lake into the Cowichan River mainly for use in its pulp mill in Crofton.

The outflow of water from the lake is also used for conservation purposes to support fish populations in the Cowichan River.

Ian Morrison, a member of the Cowichan Watershed Board, said there are major concerns this year about maintaining enough of a flow in the river for the various fish species, including salmon, that are in it to survive and procreate.

The small snow pack combined with the possibility that the area could see the same drought conditions experienced last year could mean the water levels in the lake could drop to the point where the river would not have enough flow to sustain its diverse biology.

It’s been acknowledged that if the lake had more water storage capability, it  could hold back some of the abundant water that flows into it in the winter months, which would go a long way to alleviate the concerns around sufficient water flows at this time of year.

Morrison said that determining how to do that has been an ongoing debate for years.

He said it’s expected that any project to raise the lake’s banks or increase the height of the weir to allow for more water storage would require a project in the range of $7 million to $15 million.

“Significant work has been done to apply for infrastructure grants from both the province and the federal government for this project,” he said.

“One application we worked hard on so far was unsuccessful.”