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Catalyst explores shift in Cowichan River management

Rob Belanger -
Rob Belanger
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Permit changes to prevent a 2013 salmon kill, while supplying Crofton mill’s water needs, is under discussion by Catalyst’s paper’s brass.

Mill manager Rob Belanger said he and his bosses are mulling a recent forest ministry recommendation that Catalyst seek an amendment to its Cowichan River water licence.

Catalyst’s application is due by mid-December for a chance at an April 1 approval by Victoria, regional officials heard from forests ministry staff recently.

Catalyst’s license change would allow mill managers to work with local leaders and Native elders about storing spring flows in Cowichan Lake.

That water could then be released as needed during the fall to allow spawning salmon to swim upstream.

The heritage river’s coho spawn was hit hard by the summer’s drought, leaving dead coho, locals trucking other fish upstream, and Natives without traditional food fish. It also had Belanger worried his mill might run dry and close.

“It was numerous weeks away from impacting us, and managing from that risk is certainly not good,” he said.

“The ministry has suggested that, because we’re the licensee, we have a role to play.

“We obviously have to consider the ramifications of that (amendment), and we’re looking at our options.”

September’s river-flow crisis surfaced because Catalyst’s provincial licence called for it to maintain about seven cubic metres per second flow rate.

“The river has benefits to a large number of people in this community, and we happen to be among them, and we want to do what’s right for the community as well,” Belanger said.

He couldn’t speculate on when or if Catalyst would make its decision about seeking the amendment.

“The ministry has sent the CVRD what it considers the process is. There has to be some public consultation.

“The key message is that we have concerns, and don’t want a repeat of (river drought), and want to participate in the process of addressing it, and we’re looking at what that would mean to us, specifically.”

Provincial amendment hoops see a new river curve — flow rate — identified by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and Cowichan Watershed Board, then sent to Catalyst and the ministry.

The CVRD would tell river and lake property owners of the planned flow changes, allow a 30-day objection/feedback period, then hold a public forum.

A public hearing would follow, then a 30-day appeal period to the Environmental Appeal Board.

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