Pumps installed, climate change blamed as Cowichan River dries up
Emergency measures aimed at preventing the Cowichan River from running dry were put in place on Thursday.
Experts say the waterway is threatened and drying up by the day, a damaging effect of climate change.
According to the Cowichan Valley Regional District, 2016 marks the eighth drought in the region and the third in a row.
“This is ground zero for climate change, no question,” Graham Kissack with Catalyst Paper said. “Essentially the lake never reached the full level past April.”
Where Cowichan Lake meets the river, a weir operated by Catalyst Paper stores water and releases it into the river during dry seasons.
However due to river levels being so low, the CVRD says water will have to be pumped over top of the weir.
“Seven cubic metres per second was the minimum flow that was acceptable in the river,” CVRD chair Jon Lefebure said. “This year by the end of May we had already reduced the flow to 4.5 cubic metres a second.”
If there isn’t a substantial amount of rain before Oct. 12, experts predict the lake level will begin to run dry and the pumps will have to be put in motion.
The high volume pumps will move six Olympic size pools of water into the river each hour to maintain the flow.
“Pumping over the weir would lower the water of the lake, below what it’s ever been naturally,” Lefebure said
Residents who draw their household water from Cowichan Lake are growing concerned.
They’ve already had to adjust their water lines because of the lower lake levels and they fear that pumping the water from the lake and into the river may leave them without drinking water.
“I’m concerned [if] they start drawing it down further,” said resident Diana Gunderson. “I mean don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t really afford to extend the line so I guess I’m going to have to shut it off and buy water.”
People in the area hope the drastic measures will cause the province to take action and support increasing the weir’s capacity to keep the water flowing for good.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Jessica Lepp