Pumps on standby if Cowichan Lake hits zero storage

Dean Stolz, CHEK News, September 29, 2016

Officials say water could be too low to get past spill gates as of October 12.

A sunny, dry, unseasonably warm day served as the backdrop for a critical turning point in the history of water management on the Cowichan River Thursday.

“Traditionally we’ve had rain in late August, early September that started to lift the lake up again so we would not be looking at low water like this at this time of year with the old weather pattern” said Cowichan Valley Regional District Board Chair Jon Lefebure.

However, three drought years in a row, and eight in the last 20 means the once accepted bare minimum water flow in the river of 7 cubic metres a second just for Catalyst to operate and fish survival was reduced to 4.5 at the end of May.

Now, just to keep the water flowing at that level 20 high volume pumps have been set up at the weir in Cowichan Lake.

“The pumps were designed so they could maintain that minimal, minimal flow so we still have a very serious situation. This is really a way to mitigate the worst of the current drought” added Lefebure.

The pumps draw water from the lake over the weir into the river at a rate of six olympic sized swimming pools an hour.

The system was tested Thursday however October 12th is the day everyone is waiting for.

“October 12 is when we currently predict the lake will reach zero storage. What that means is water will stop flowing across our weir structure, our spill gates at that time and the river flow will start to drop towards zero, so that is the day if we do not receive precipitation between now and then that we will have to turn the pumps on” said Graham Kissack, Vice President Corporate Social Responsibility at Catalyst Paper.

The Cowichan Tribes who have lived off the river for millennia say it could be too little too late.

“This is an issue we should have been working on years and years ago. We saw these problems coming, but we never expected these drought conditions to continue” said Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour.

Catalyst is covering the $500,000 cost of the pumps but everyone agrees it is only a short-term bandaid solution and that a higher weir is required but that will cost anywhere from $10m to $15m dollars.