Pumping over the weir in Cowichan Lake has been required when summer droughts threatened to run the Cowichan River dry. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Editorial: Funding for watershed projects, including weir, welcome

Any and all grants from senior levels of government to help with this vital project are welcome.

A federal cash infusion of $24.2 million for drought and flood mitigation in the Cowichan watershed was really good news this month.

Further, while exact details of where the money will be going were thin in the funding announcement, the Cowichan Watershed Board has said that at least a portion of that money will go towards a new weir at Cowichan Lake.

We don’t yet know how much the new weir will cost, but it’s going to be a lot. Design and engineering work is being done now, and we will have a better idea of the price tag once that is finished, but this is a big project, and it’s not going to come cheap. We’re talking millions of dollars here.

So any and all grants from senior levels of government to help with this vital project are welcome.

A new, higher weir, which will hold more water in Cowichan Lake over the summer months, has been bandied about for many years. It’s been a tough sell for some Cowichan Lake residents, particularly those worried about losing waterfront on the lake border of their properties. There are some who remain resolutely opposed to the project.

But we cannot continue on as we have been. This summer was a rare respite where we got through without a drought threatening to run the mighty Cowichan dry.

Such a thing would be a disaster. From drinking water to sewage dilution, salmon and other fish habitat to First Nations cultural icon, the waters of the Cowichan River are the lifeblood of our communities from the top of the watershed to the bottom.

Climate change and other factors have meant there is now less snowpack and less water feeding the Cowichan River during the increasingly dry summer months. We have now seen the once-unimaginable scenario where Catalyst Paper (which operates the weir) had to pump water over the weir to keep the river flowing. We’ve had warnings to boaters about hazards on Cowichan Lake normally covered by feet of water suddenly posing a danger because the lake levels got so low.

The status quo is no longer something we can rest on.

There are things we as individuals can and must do to ourselves conserve water. Even with a new weir, all of our drought problems will not magically disappear. And yes, industry in the form of Catalyst Paper, and logging operations that are affecting snowpack and Cowichan Lake tributaries must be encouraged to take this matter seriously and make changes as well.

But using Cowichan Lake as a natural storage tank makes sense, and we must proceed with a new weir.