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Tubing issues on the Cowichan River raising the ire of riverside residents

Public drinking and pollution tops the concerns
A number of property owners with riverside homes along the Cowichan River are raising concerns about the growth of tubing on the water. Pictured, from left, are Joe Saysell, Rosemary Danaher, and Chris Morley. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Joe Saysell said problems with tubers who travel down the Cowichan River are getting worse each summer.

Saysell, who has lived next to the river for decades, said his No. 1 concern among many is the amount of drinking some of the tubers engage in, which leads to excessive noise, empty liquor bottles and other garbage being left in the river and on the shoreline, and people defecating, or worse, on his and other resident’s private properties.

He said there were meetings held in Lake Cowichan about five years ago to address the drinking and related issues around tubing, and the RCMP then began a rigorous patrol program that saw officers disguised, with some as fishermen on the shore and boaters in the water, to intervene with drinking tubers.


“That cut down the problem by about 90 per cent when word got out, but then the police cut way back on the patrols and after about two years, it was worse than ever,” Saysell said.

Many of the other property owners who live along the river share Saysell’s concerns, and want the issues addressed.

Rosemary Danaher said large groups of drinking tubers who pass by her riverfront property regularly scream obscenities back and forth to each other, and the water amplifies the sound.

“Some of them even bring boomboxes, which are played at high volumes,” she said.

“There used to be ducks, herons and other birds along the river, but they are long gone. I’ve lived here for 20 years and these problems have been getting worse, and last year, they were out of the ball park.”

Property owner Chris Morley, who is a fisheries observer, shares the concerns that Saysell and Danaher have, and added that he has seen a dramatic drop in fish stocks in the river over the years since tubing became popular.

Parked cars on adjacent roads to the river is also a problem as tubers pull off to the side of narrow streets to park and launch their tubes in the river, making access difficult, particularly for emergency vehicles.

“We live here for 12 months of the year and our properties are devalued for two months while the tubing goes on, so the town should give us a rebate on our property taxes for those two months,” Saysell said.


But Danaher said the problems are fixable, as long as people have the will.

“They should double the police force in the summer months, and start issuing fines for people who drink in public,” she said.

“That would be picked up by social media and would spread like wildfire, and that would go a long way to address the issues. All it would take is the manpower and the will.”

Aaron Frisby, owner of The Tube Shack and Cowabunga Tubes, the only two tube rentals businesses currently operating in Lake Cowichan, said he and his staff do all they can to deal with the issues.

But he said his customers account for just about 30 per cent of all the tubers on the Cowichan River, with the rest bringing their own tubes and launching from other locations.

“We have put up signage and hand out waivers to our customers warning that it’s illegal to drink in public, and we put it out on social media that if people are looking to party, pollute and disrespect this area, don’t come to Lake Cowichan,” Frisby said.

“We want tubing on the river to be a family affair, and 99 per cent of our customers are families. We want everyone to act responsibly.”

Frisby said his staff don’t allow alcohol in their parking lots, and report to the RCMP any time an issue arises.


“There have been some large groups of men who have been coming to the river with their own tubes and launching from somewhere else with alcohol that have raised concerns, and we brought it to the attention of the RCMP,” he said.

“But the RCMP are limited in what they can do, and they can’t search coolers unless they are at the start of the river. There are also a limited amount of RCMP officers available to monitor the river because of the forestry protests at Fairy Creek.”

As for garbage, Frisby said his business is committed to daily river cleanups, and that has been showing results, but he realizes that some garbage can accumulate each day before the cleanups begin.

In regards to the parking issues along narrow roads, particularly Wentworth and Greendale roads, Frisby suggested that one way to deal with it is to make them one-way accesses.

“People with these concerns should come to talk to us about them and we’ll see if we can find solutions together,” he said.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day said the town has not received many complaints about tubing this year, but if it does, he expects some discussions in the town would likely begin.

He said the best advice he can give to people with concerns around drinking in public is to call the RCMP.

“It’s not up to town council to deal with these issues because we have no jurisdiction around who goes on the river, other than give out business licences to those who sell or rent tubes,” Day said.

“Having more RCMP at the entry points on the river did work in the past, but there isn’t an endless supply of RCMP officers.”

Ian Morrison, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls through which a section of the Cowichan River runs, said dealing with tubers on the river is probably one of the most multi-jurisdictional issues one can think off, involving the CVRD, Town of Lake Cowichan and the provincial and federal governments as water and fish are involved.

“The tubing companies are doing the best they can to educate and monitor the tubers, but there’s a whole bunch of people that just buy their own tubes, launch from a public park and cause mayhem downstream,” he said.

“It boils down to the fact that there is a small group of tubers who ruin it for the rest of us. I don’t have the answers, but there will be upgrades at the launch site on Little Beach, which is in my electoral area, soon and I expect to hear from the community on their thoughts on how to reduce the impacts of tubing on the river and residents at that time. I’m all ears.”

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Ian Morrison is the director for the CVRD’s Electoral Area F (Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls). (File photo)