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Paddlers hope Cowichan River weir could include some whitewater

Whitewater channels and objects could be constructed, group says
Recreational paddlers are hoping that the design for the new weir in Lake Cowichan, pictured here in a graphic, could include objects and channels for whitewater use. (Courtesy of the CVRD)

Recreational paddlers are hoping a few whitewater channels and obstacles can be added to the Cowichan River when a new weir is constructed at Cowichan Lake.

Rick Bryan spoke to Lake Cowichan town council on March 16, on behalf of the recreational whitewater paddling community, including several clubs and provincial associations. The community includes canoeists, paddleboarders, kayakers, boardsurfers, tubers — “the responsible ones, at any rate,” Bryan said — and boogie boarders.

“We believe that the design of the weir and the riverbed close to it could easily be augmented to provide recreational value during fall, winter and spring, especially while the weir is on control,” Bryan explained.

The process for replacing the current weir is underway, and the paddlers would like to see recreational considerations included in that process.

“We happen to think that the plans for the new weir are almost a masterpiece,” Bryan said. “But we’re requesting consideration for some minor additions, some minor tweaks to the overall design.”

The “tweaks” would impact not the weir itself but the river below the weir, and could have extensive benefits.

“What we are proposing would benefit the town of Lake Cowichan as well as recreational river users without threatening or diminishing any of the weir’s original intent,” Bryan said.

Features on the river could be added during construction of the new weir, Bryan explained, similar to the waves, holes and eddies that paddlers like to seek out and play in. Those things do occur randomly and naturally, he noted, but they are prone to appearing and disappearing based on daily flows; they can be too big, too small or too dangerous to enjoy; and they may be hard to access. Manmade objects and channels would be easier to control the accessibility and safety of, especially in proximity to the weir. Such additions are not a barrier to fish, Bryan pointed out.

Bryan said his group is not advocating for the construction of a complete whitewater playpark — “perhaps two or three waves” — but shared information about playparks in places like Calgary; Bend, Oregon; and Reno, Nevada, where they have contributed to tourism revenue.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has encouraged the paddle sport community to commission a study of the river to determine the feasibility of whitewater additions below the weir, and the community had already raised more than $3,000 by the time Bryan spoke to Lake Cowichan council.

Bryan said he hoped Lake Cowichan would support the paddling community’s effort.

“We’re only going to build this weir once in our lifetime. Our new weir needs to be the best it can be. It can and should serve not just industry or fish or agriculture, but all river uses and all river users, and that includes adding value and for recreation.”