The dwindling water levels in the Cowichan River are getting worse each year and pumping water over the Lake Cowichan weir is only a bandaid solution according to its owner, Catalyst Paper Corporation.
Harold Norlund, the company’s vice president and general manager, delivered this message at a general meeting of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce last week. He first gave a presentation on Catalyst’s operations before launching into an overview of the river’s water situation and Catalyst’s short-term proposal to pump lake water into the river.
“Pumping is not a good long-term solution,” he repeated throughout his presentation. “Drought conditions are here, the river changes are here. We need to have a conversation about medium and long-term solutions.”
Catalyst owns the Lake Cowichan weir and relies on water from the river in order to maintain operations at its mill in Crofton. The company has submitted an application to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for water pumping in 2016 and 2017 to keep the river at levels that will allow the mill to stay open and also for salmon to spawn. Water levels are the lowest in September.
“The pumps would have to go by the boat launch, the generator we have to figure out whether…it goes on the museum side or the boat launch side [of the river],” he told the Gazette after his presentation. “The difference for us is, can we get it in there without causing another problem? And we’re trying to reduce noise as much as possible because there are some homes very close to the boat launch.”
The pumps’ diesel generator emits noise at about 70 decibels, and Norlund said Catalyst would look into setting up a temporary wall or sound barrier to “mitigate noise as much as possible” when the generator is running.
Norlund did not know when the provincial government would announce a decision on their application but said the pumps only require about three weeks to install. The operating cost of the pumps is $1 million annually and would be shouldered by Catalyst.
“We need to have a conversation about medium and long-term solutions. And really the long-term solution is we have to raise the weir somehow. And to do that Catalyst is looking to have a partnership with the CVRD and First Nations,” said Norlund.
Ian Morrison, Area F director for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, was present during the talk and joined Norlund at the front of the room during part of the question-and-answer portion of the evening.
“What kind of relationship can be created to ensure we have a strong partnership with business, local government, First Nations? That’s what’s being explored,” Morrison said.
He also noted the prospect of raising the weir still has some area residents concerned they will lose beachfront property due to an increased water level.
“There’s people asking that question,” he said.
According to Norlund, the lake’s high water mark is 1.8 meters above the weir, and it would not be necessary to raise it that much.
“The Cowichan River is a jewel in the valley,” he said, describing the many different uses for the river such as swimming, boating and fishing. “It’s a way of life we want to maintain. The way we take care of [reflects] how we’re going to be measured as a society.”