The federal government announced $24.2 million to reduce the impact of climate change on the Cowichan watershed’s ability to deal with increased winter storms and summer drought.
The announcement was made by Catherine McKenna, minister of infrastructure and communities, at a virtual news conference on Nov. 4 that included William Seymour, chief of the Cowichan Tribes, and Aaron Stone, chairman of the Cowichan Regional District.
McKenna said the federal funding, along with more than $5.3 million that will be contributed by Cowichan Tribes and contributing partners, will be invested into the Cowichan Watershed Resiliency Program.
The program is intended to improve the resilience of the Cowichan watershed by increasing the capacity of the watershed to buffer both drought and flooding.
McKenna said the project is expected to reduce the impact of storm events and river flooding on people’s homes, sacred sites, and critical public infrastructure for Cowichan Tribes and throughout the Cowichan Valley.
“In addition, it will increase water supply and storage to address ongoing drought and rehabilitate infrastructure assets,” she said.
“The flooding on the Cowichan River last February had a huge impact on the Cowichan Tribes and the rest of the community, damaging houses and impacting families and the impacts were made even scarier due to climate change. We need to recognize the need to work together on these issues and be clear on our goals and outcomes.”
Torrential rains in the Cowichan Valley in early February last year caused numerous evacuations and a state of emergency to be declared by the Cowichan Valley Regional District due to road closures and the swell of rivers and lakes in the district that flooded people’s homes and yards and closed parks.
Many homes along the Cowichan River had to be evacuated and Seymour said more than 150 homes on the reserve were impacted by the flooding.
McKenna said that getting to the point where the federal government is stepping in with its financial contribution has been years in the making, and a collaborative effort of multiple partners, including the Province of B.C., Paper Excellence, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Cowichan Watershed Board, and the community.
“With severe weather events on the rise, it is critical to invest in infrastructure that builds more resilient communities,” she said.
“The Cowichan Watershed Resiliency Program will provide both water storage opportunities during the summer and flood relief during the winter to protect residents, communities and the environment along the Cowichan River. Canada’s infrastructure plan invests in thousands of projects, creates jobs across the country, and builds cleaner, more inclusive communities.”
Seymour said Cowichan Tribes is proud of the work the entire coalition has achieved in almost 20 years of fighting to protect the Cowichan watershed.
“This decision marks a terrific opportunity to permanently benefit one of B.C.’s key heritage river and the vibrant community that exists because of it,” he said.
“So many volunteers have come out to help us during our struggles with flooding and other related issues over the years, and we thank them and the federal government for their assistance. It’s huge to us.”