Media Release – BC Gov News. Ministry of Forests. Thursday, August 24, 2023
As extreme drought conditions continue to affect river levels on Vancouver Island, new measures to protect fish have been implemented on the Koksilah and Cowichan rivers.
Effective Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, a fish population protection order temporarily restricts water use for industry and forage crops in the Koksilah River watershed. Koksilah River has seen persistent low stream flows that are threatening the survival of steelhead trout populations. This order will help restore water flow levels and protect this fish species.
This order falls under the Water Sustainability Act’s purpose of population level threats to fish species. Approximately 108 surface and groundwater licence holders and transitioning groundwater-use applicants in the Koksilah River watershed must stop using water for forage crops, which include grass for hay and silage, alfalfa and forage corn (corn grown for forage purposes, including grazing, silage and earlage). Water use for industrial purposes, as outlined in the protection order, must also cease.
The order does not apply to water diverted and used for non-forage crops, such as market vegetables, livestock watering or domestic purposes. It also does not apply to water users that are supported by off-stream water storage. The order may be revoked if water flows recover. Irrigation of forage crops is one of the most water-intensive agricultural water uses.
Affected farmers can access programs, such as the federal-provincial AgriStability program, which helps producers with significant drops in income or increased expenses. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food, in collaboration with the federal government, is also ensuring that producers who did not enrol in AgriStability by the April 30 deadline are still eligible for late participation and can receive financial assistance. Producers must have declared farm income for tax purposes to be eligible to enrol in AgriStability.
To help farmers and producers to access hay and feed, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is working with the BC Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA) on the new Access to Feed program. Through this program, the BCCA is matching sellers of hay and feed domestically across Canada and the western United States with B.C. farmers.
These decisions are always made as a last resort – recognizing the impact on people and businesses. Because of the collective efforts of water licensees in the area, the Province has been able to delay these actions until today. Provincial staff are monitoring the situation and working to balance water uses with environmental flow needs.
To further support conservation efforts in the Cowichan Valley, the fishing closure on the Upper Cowichan River is being extended into the fall season.
The angling closure extends from the Cowichan Lake Weir dam to the 66 Mile Trestle located in Cowichan River Provincial Park. Although this section of river was initially scheduled to open for angling on Sept. 1, 2023, the order extends the closure period to Nov. 15, 2023.
Ongoing drought conditions, in combination with sustained hot water temperatures, have led to the development of significant algal bloom in the Upper Cowichan River. This bloom has led to reduced water quality, creating adverse conditions for fish and the aquatic ecosystem in the Upper Cowichan River and causing significant fish mortality in the Upper Cowichan River over an area of at least 10 kilometres.
The goal of this extended closure is to alleviate additional stress on fish populations and allow for the recovery of the river’s aquatic ecosystem.
Water used to extinguish a fire or contain and control the spread of a fire remains exempt by provisions under the Water Sustainability Act, so these orders will not apply to water that is used to control the spread of wildfires. However, people under an evacuation order due to wildfire must leave the area immediately.
Ministerial Order for Water Restrictions in the Koksilah River:
Drought portal (maps, tables):
Insurance and Income Protection Programs for BC farmers:
Visit the website for backgrounder and more information here.