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Cowichan challenged to match Ladysmith in water conservation

The Cowichan River flow is down to seven cubic metres per second, the minimum summer flow, and half what it typically is at this time of year. - John McKinley/file
The Cowichan River flow is down to seven cubic metres per second, the minimum summer flow, and half what it typically is at this time of year.
— image credit: John McKinley/file

No, you aren't going to be able to solve the Cowichan River's flow issues as they near crisis stage.

Yes, you can make a difference.

As lack of snowpack and spring rain combine for flows reaching a trickle stage, and officials discuss options, the Cowichan Watershed Board is asking the public to step up.

Cut back or cut out your lawn watering, car washing, and running water during teeth brushing, suggested the board's David Slade.

It might not seem like much, but if the thousands who depend on the Cowichan and its feeding of the surrounding aquifer step up, it could be the difference the community needs.

That's the rationale behind the Cowichan Watershed Board launching a Water Conservation Challenge to valley leaders, businesses and residents.

"Its a valley-wide initiative from Ladysmith to Mill Bay where we're trying to promote water conservation and sustainability," Slade said.

Paying attention to how much water you may be wasting is key.

Lake Cowichan has found major leaks thanks to the addition of water meters there, including one losing 1,700 m3 of water a month. Planned meters in Duncan could help folks gauge their water use, take measures to use less, and save more on water bills — a system now used in Ladysmith, Slade explained.

Ladysmith averages 246 litres per person per day. The Canadian average is around 325; Germany's average 120, Slade said.

Ladysmith is being cited as a benchmark other valley communities should be aiming for. It has reduced its consumption by 24% in the past decade.

"Ladysmith has shown that cutting water waste is not only possible but financially prudent," said Slade. "They are saving money on infrastructure and energy costs, while addressing growing water problems. While total annual precipitation levels haven't changed much, climate change, a growing population, and other factors are causing summer water shortages."

Slade reminds residents that the issue also involves water conservation in wells and surface water.

"We have a high level of confidence there's a link between water supplies in wells used by Duncan and North Cowichan and water flows in the river," said Slade. "We're working on that (link) with the Cowichan Watershed Board, the province and (Simon Fraser University)."

The Watershed Board hopes to issue a Black Tie Award to the community that shows the best reduction in water use according to annual reporting.

"In recent years, we have seen terrible salmon losses and the near shut-down of Catalyst mill which relies on water from Cowichan Lake," Slade said. "Growing local food also depends on water. We all win by using water wisely.

"Water is a priceless resource but we treat it like it's worthless and don't respect the water we've been so lucky to have."

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