North Cowichan wants info on local watershed control

Sarah Simpson, The Citizen, April 20, 2013

North Cowichan council wants more information before it supports One Cowichan's plea to the province for local control of the Cowichan Watershed.

On Wednesday, One Cowichan spokesman Parker Jefferson told council now is the time to act, as the provincial government is in the middle of re-writing the Water Act.

"Local elected officials and the public are certainly welcome to make comments to the regulative authorities, but in the end they have no power and the decisions are made by... government employees who don't live in our communities and don't necessarily have all the incentive to make all the right decisions," Jefferson said.

He noted community decision makers "have all the incentive to make the right decisions, but have none of the power."

One Cowichan formed as a result of the low flow crisis in the Cowichan River last summer.

Jefferson explained that last year local officials had advised the provincial regulators in the spring that thanks to some timely rainfall, there was extra water in Cowichan Lake.

Given a drought was predicted, the board, Cowichan Tribes, and other local governments asked to keep the water in the lake for when things got dry.

"That request was turned down by the provincial regulators and they dumped the water into the Cowichan River in July and August when it was not needed," Jefferson explained.

Had they not done that, in spite of the drought that did occur, there would have been enough water to sustain the fishery, Jefferson said.

The results were devastating, with one-fifth of the Chinook salmon population - about 1,000 of a projected run of 5,000 fish - lost.

Many on the Watershed Board are ready, willing and able to ensure that kind of management doesn't happen again, he said. That's where North Cowichan comes in.

"We are going to ask the provincial government to devolve some of their regulated authority to the Cowichan Watershed Board so that this board can make some decisions about our water, as it affects our community," Jefferson said. "We think this is a reasonable ask and the more support we can get for this the more likely it is that we could be a pilot project."

Jefferson asked for a resolution from council in support of the devolution of provincial power over the water resources to the Cowichan Watershed board.

But council, although agreeing in principle, wanted more details.

They sent the item to a future Committee of the Whole meeting and asked for a report from staff.

"This will give council a chance to get a little more background," Mayor Jon Lefebure said.

© Cowichan Valley Citizen 2013