Facts urged to foil fears about storing Cowichan River water for fall fish spawning
Squabbling about storing river water in Cowichan Lake is a ticking time bomb for fall’s salmon spawning, a local stakeholder explained.
One Cowichan’s Parker Jefferson was dismayed after Saturday’s indecisive meeting among 100-some folks in Lake Cowichan.
That huddle debated how best to store spring and summer flows — behind the lake’s Catalyst-controlled weir — for a fall release to prevent another dry-river crisis that killed more than 1,000 spawners in September.
And even if the forest ministry’s Brian Symonds, fish folks, and lake property owners reach common ground about enough water storage by Sept. 15, “we don’t know how much snow we have in the hills,” said Jefferson.
“We don’t know what’ll happen this summer in terms of rainfall. If we get a wet spring, we’ll have enough water to reach the top of the weir.”
“It’s the probability of having seven cubic-metre-per-second flows,” he said of Crofton pulp mill’s provincial licence governing minimum river flows.
“The probability is better (to divert spawning-water crises) with the more water we have stored.”
He backed a ministry option to stretch storage until July 31, three weeks past the licence’s mandated July 9 release.
“We’re tying to get some local control for water management away from the forests ministry. It’s a bureaucratic mess.
“The licence is held by the mill but administered by the comptroller (Symonds),” he said.
“I hope he does the right thing and allows more storage. I’d love to see them hold full storage for as long as possible early in the summer.”
But Symonds did a lackluster job Saturday explaining complex technical-storage facts to folks, including lake property owners fearing flooding and threatening lawsuits against Catalyst, Jefferson signalled.
“The mill has all the water it needs, and they declined to increase storage.”
Liability worries are also why Cowichan’s regional directors haven’t applied for a new river-water licence through the province, explained Jefferson.
It boils down fact-based fish protection and property rights “but many people just don’t want to hear about this — it’s a problem some want to go away.”
Still, Jefferson urged landowners to get informed about storage that will have little or no effect on their property.
“It would be way below where the (winter) water mark is now,” he stressed, citing the ministry’s laser-guided topography studies found at env.gov.bc.ca/wsd/cowichan.html.
“Of 800 lake properties studied, only 350 would have any effect from storage — their property may not even extend into the lake at all.”
Meanwhile, One Cowichan aims to make local control of river flows and storage an election issue toward B.C.’s May 14 vote, he said.