The low water levels this summer had everyone in the Cowichan Valley concerned. There are a number of problems that the low water causes–stress on the salmon, high fire hazards, and of course, possible closure of the Crofton mill.
The way the committees have addressed the drought has raised the ire of some long-term residents around the lake who are frustrated at being ignored.
Dick Murdoch, for instance, has lived in the area since the 60s and while he is no biologist, as a resident Murdoch has known the lake for the past half century.
According to Murdoch, the issue of the water levels is a complex one that requires long-time knowledge of the lake and its relationship with the creeks that feed it, as well as with the industries that affect the water in the valley, such as the Crofton Mill and the logging in the hills around Cowichan Lake.
Murdoch explains in detail how Catalyst uses the weir to retain water in the lake to counteract summer drought conditions. According to Murdoch, the lake basically acts as a big holding tank.
“They wanted to conserve water to hold it back in the lake for summer when it’s low,” says Murdoch. “Then they let water out so they’ve got enough water to run the pulp mill and for Duncan to water their lawns and everything.”
One major problem that ultimately affects the salmon run, says Murdoch, is that when the level of the lake is raised it blocks the flow of the creeks that feed it.
“As soon as the creeks hit the lake it takes their momentum away because they’ve got no force, so all the rocks start to pile up in the creek right at the edge of the lake when they hit the still water,” says Murdoch. “Shaw Creek is the prime example.”
He points out that this becomes a problem for fish that are trying to find their way up the creeks.
“As soon as the water is weaving it’s way in between millions of rocks, the fish can’t get through,” says Murdoch.
According to Murdoch, the rock deposits then cause the creeks to constantly change course, which can also lead to flooding.
“Over at Sutton creek at the golf course, that has happened twice really bad,” says Murdoch.
He feels that the committees which have been reviewing the drought and water level concerns haven’t been thorough enough in consulting long-time lake residents.
“The lake stewardship committees have only come in the last 15 or 20 years. They’ve never seen what it was like,” says Murdoch. “They’ve got to talk to the old people that have been here. This is all because they’re raising the lake levels. That’s when things start to get weird.”
Brian Houle, environment manager of Catalyst, says that in winter when the lake is at normal levels, the weir has absolutely no impact on the lake because it is submerged. In response to Murdoch’s ideas about how the lake levels have a cascade effect on creeks and salmon, Houle was skeptical.
“It’s not my area of expertise, so I can’t really comment on that.”
But Houle’s personal opinion was that Murdoch’s assessment of the situation was incorrect.