More than 4,100 truckloads of gravel were removed from the Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers in 2021 as part of the provincially sponsored $3-million watershed remediation project in the two rivers.
It has been determined that removing the sediment helped protect the Cowichan region from even more severe flooding during the major flooding event that hit the area last November, and the ongoing removal of gravel and log jams in these rivers is key to protecting local communities from future flooding events.
The project was mostly supported through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was delivered by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Watersheds BC, with financial support from the province as part of its $10-billion COVID-19 response.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum said increased flooding and drought conditions, due to development and climate change, have dramatically impacted the two important watersheds, which have served as the heart of Cowichan Tribes for many generations.
She said that’s why new funding from the province for watershed restoration work and the development of a water-sustainability plan for the Xwulqw’selu (Koksilah) watershed is so important.
“Nutsamat kws yaay’us the qa’, [which means] we come together as a whole to work together to be stronger as partners for the watershed,” said Hwitsum.
“The Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers have always played an integral role in the well being of Cowichan people. We need to work together with all jurisdictions to improve the rivers, protect our communities from future flooding events, and restore fish habitat.”
Premier John Horgan highlighted in the province’s budget for 2022 a commitment of $30 million to continue to improve B.C.’s watersheds.
Half of the funding is earmarked for Watersheds BC through the MakeWay Foundation to co-ordinate watershed restoration projects led or co-led by First Nations, including Cowichan Tribes.
It has yet to be determined how much of a grant Cowichan Tribes will receive as part of the new provincial initiative.
In advance of the funding announcement, Osborne met with Hwitsum for a tour of watershed restoration work, both completed and underway, along the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers.
They visited two projects; a water sustainability plan for the Koksilah River to benefit fish and water users, as well as sediment removal and habitat rehabilitation for the Koksilah and Cowichan rivers, an integral part of its five-year river management plan.
“A priority for my ministry is ensuring that water and watersheds are respected and valued, in part through the development of a Watershed Security Strategy and Watershed Security Fund,” said Osborne.
“The work that’s already being completed on wetland and watershed restoration is producing positive results and environmental benefits that will last for years to come.”
In March, Cowichan Tribes and the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development announced that they had reached an historic agreement to develop a water sustainability plan for the Koksilah watershed, the first of its kind in B.C.
The plan is intended to address significant concerns in the watershed related to water availability, low flows, critical fish habitat, Indigenous cultural resources, and other identified issues.
Summer flows in the Koksilah River have been exceptionally low in recent years at times when demand for water is the greatest, which threatens the survival of fish populations and the aquatic ecosystem.
In August 2019 and 2021, Ministerial Orders under the Water Sustainability Act were issued in the watershed, curtailing crop irrigation and other water uses to protect fish populations.