Peter Rusland, Cowichan News Leader Pictorial, June 5 2013
Water for fish and the Crofton mill received a provincial reprieve this year with Friday’s nod to delay releasing stored Cowichan River flows until later in July.
But local officials remain worried about long-term water-storage answers to droughts amid rising climate change.
“With continued low fall flows,something further has to be looked at,” said Gerald Thom of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society.
That solution surrounds a local coalition, seeking a provincial licence to boost river storage — behind Cowichan Lake’s weir — beyond Catalyst Paper’s two existing water licences, provincial staff explained.
Seeking more spring river-water storage is basically a provincial and federal responsibility, indicated Rob Hutchins, Cowichan Valley Regional District chairman.
He was non-committal about the CVRD seeking that higher-volume permit.
“It’s not CVRD reluctance; taking on someone else’s responsibility is a big step,” Hutchins said, expecting debate on the issue during a Cowichan Watershed Board huddle Thursday.
Hutchins, and mill manager Rob Belanger, signalled the later water release is a positive step toward protecting fish and habitat.
“But with climate change affecting future river flows, we need to look at that storage question,” said Hutchins,
“In my opinion,” added Thom, “that (storage-licence) process could take five to 10 years.”
But that decade could see more fish die due to drought — as happened last summer — and the mill possibly shutting without adequate water, hinted Thom.
He cited engineers Kerr Wood Leidal’s 2012 study showing the weir’s summer inflows, back to 1955, have dipped by 35% due to climate change. KWL says a delayed drawdown — as approved by Victoria Friday — and additional lake storage would reduce the risk of low river flows from 61% to 35% in any given year.
Thom had mixed feelings about Friday’s ruling.
“It’s a 30% improvement which is great; we’ll only run out of water one year out of three.”
The CVRD and conservationists want to prevent that scene.
“Ultimately, if not the province or the federal government (seeking more storage) we’ll have to look locally — maybe to the CVRD and the Cowichan Tribes,” Hutchins said.
The forest ministry’s Brian Symonds, who ruled on the later-July release, said he considered lakefront property owners’ fears their land would drown under boosted storage.
But Thom, a lakefront landowner, has stated that idea is basically a myth. Sacrifices must eventually be made for the river’s sake, he added.
“Water will be the key to our future,” he said, urging a CVRD plan for sustainable growth.
“That’s the elephant in the room.”
What the order does:
The previous water-management regime, called a rule curve, ordered lowering of the lake level from full storage, starting no later than July 9 each year.
The new rule curve allows delaying that annual release until July 31 “when natural conditions permit,” the ministry states.
“The delayed start of the drawdown will give (Catalyst, the existing licence holder) more flexibility on water releases.
“Catalyst Paper will be able to respond more effectively to conditions that may vary from year to year, and still meet the minimum outflow specified in its two water licences in most years.
“It will also help improve in-stream flow conditions during the fall migration and spawning of chinook salmon.”
However, the order does not raise the maximum amount of storage on the lake, nor increase the height of the weir storage structure.
It followed community consultation — including a public meeting March 9 in Lake Cowichan — between Victoria, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Catalyst Paper.