John McKinley, Cowichan News Leader Pictorial, March 4, 2015
The lack of snowfall on Vancouver Island this winter has caught the attention of more people than just the Mt. Washington ski crowd.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District is concerned enough that it seems prepared to take immediate action.
In a carefully worded media release issued Wednesday, the CVRD announced its intention to attack potential drought conditions on the Cowichan River through some sort of federally funded initiative.
While the release stops short of committing to any potentially controversial capital projects such as pumps, dredging the upper river, or raising the weir, it makes it clear all three are among the options on the table. It also strongly hints the CVRD intends to decide on a course of action prior to April 15, the deadline for provincial gas tax grant applications.
“The impacts of increasingly low summer water levels on Cowichan Lake and the corresponding low flows on the Cowichan River are significant, and will result in risks to the environment, the economy and human uses of the river and lake,” the release states.
Consultation is already underway with stakeholder groups to choose the appropriate course of action.
“We’re looking for a practical, cost-effective solution to ensure adequate river flows to the end of the dry season,” CVRD Chairman Jon Lefebure said.
According to Lefebure, officials are well aware that any plan that involves increased water storage also involves a provincial license application and consultation with the community. He said they are committed to doing exactly that should any grant funding be awarded.
“I understand there are lakefront property owners who are understandably concerned about how this might affect their property,” he said. In September, the CVRD endorsed a policy that could potentially lead to raising the weir, seven years after it was initially recommended in a comprehensive Cowichan Basin study. Concerns about flooding waterfront properties had previously held that decision at bay, but the political tide seemed to finally shift last year when drought conditions nearly ran the river dry.
According to the CVRD, a successful grant application would allow detailed design and engineering for whatever option is chosen.
With some of the options coming with potential price tags as high as $10 million, the regional district thinks it critical to get the support of higher government.
“This is a chance to significantly reduce the potential tax burden on local residents while ensuring sufficient funds for a high-quaility, lasting solution,” Lefebure said.