The pumps have now been shut off at Cowichan Lake, but that doesn’t mean we can or should just forget about our water problems.
Fall rains added enough depth to Cowichan Lake last week that pumps being operated by Catalyst mill to get water from the lake over the weir to keep the Cowichan River running, were able to be shut down. But this has been a huge wake-up call for the Cowichan Valley about just how much our water situation has changed over the last decade.
There was a time, not long ago (and some are still blindly living in it), that water was not something we had to be overly concerned about. The Cowichan Valley has a number of rivers of significant size, the Cowichan being the most prominent among them, with many smaller tributaries. To add to that, underground aquifers have fed our communities’ water systems. In short, we’ve always seen ourselves as being flush with water.
But then the undeniable effects of climate change started bringing us summer droughts the likes of which we had never seen, coupled with smaller snow packs in the mountains that melted more quickly, meaning spring and summer runoff into the lakes slowed to a trickle, then stopped, long before we were ready for more fall rains. These problems have been exacerbated by logging and other human activities around the lakes.
Catalyst has installed pumps at Cowichan weir for several years in anticipation of needing them to keep the Cowichan River flowing. This year, for the first time, they had to use them. We guarantee it won’t be the last time. The fall rains have started (fairly early this year, to our benefit), but we can’t just forget about our need for conservation as the water levels rise. We still need to do our part in looking at our individual water use. We also need to look at the construction of a new weir, which would hold more water in the lake for a longer period of time during our new normal summer droughts. A look at logging practices that are denuding our hills, leaving whatever snow pack we do get to melt more quickly, wouldn’t go amiss either.
We can no longer deny our new reality. Where once we took for granted that whenever we turned on the tap, water would gush out in a seemingly never ending stream, we must now consider that such a thing is not guaranteed, even in our watersheds of plenty. In fact, this has been the ultimate watershed moment. We must now decide where we go from here.