The Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia has included the Cowichan River in its 2016 list of B.C.’s most endangered rivers, due in large part to the drought-like conditions the region experienced last summer which caused extremely low flows and high river temperatures.
“The circumstances that have unfolded on the Cowichan highlight the need to more proactively address the impacts of climate change,” said ORC rivers chairman Mark Angelo in a press release.
However, climate change was not the only factor addressed by ORC in its assessment of the Cowichan River.
The group also pointed to the weir in Cowichan Lake, which is owned by Catalyst Paper and supplies water to its mill in Crofton, as another reason for the river’s dangerously low levels.
“If the weir was nominally raised, which the ORC supports, water spillage from the lake would be lessened in winter allowing for more water to be held back and dispensed to the river in summer months, which would increase flows and lessen water temperatures,” said Angelo.
The impact of low water levels on the health of the Cowichan River’s ecosystems and fish populations is one of the chief reasons ORC cited in classifying the river as endangered.
ORC compiles its list of endangered rivers based on geographic region, selecting rivers from Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, the interior and the north. The Cowichan River was determined to be the most endangered river on Vancouver Island, chosen from a list of rivers nominated by individuals, large groups and ORC member organizations. ORC’s endangered rivers committee, comprised of “B.C.’s best known river specialists,” makes the final decision on which rivers get chosen for each region.
This year marks the 23rd endangered rivers list from ORC and the switch to a list released every two years rather than annually.