Catalyst plans to begin pumping water over the weir on Cowichan Lake at 11 a.m. on Aug. 29, as extreme drought grips the region.
Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said the water level in the river is continuing its downward trend and it’s been determined that pumps will be needed prior to the conclusion of the Labour Day long weekend.
He said the pumps will be started prior to the long weekend to ensure everything is in good order for the Labour Day weekend.
“The pumps will begin to provide the Cowichan River with the current and unchanged flow of 4.5 cubic metres per second,” Houle said.
“The lake level will continue to slowly decline as a function of our dry weather and due to the sustained 4.5 CMS flow leaving the lake. Pumping will continue for as long as pumping is required to sustain the river with 4.5 CMS flow. This early action of shifting river flow from gravity feed to electrically energized pump feed will have no impact on conditions in the river.”
Catalyst’s Crofton pulp mill, which depends on water from the Cowichan River to run its operations, has been planning to begin pumping water over its weir for weeks if the region didn’t get sufficient rain to raise the water levels in the lake.
The region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades and water basins in the region, including Cowichan Lake, are only getting about two-thirds of the water they used to get in spring and summer.
Catalyst has 20 pumps installed at the weir and has confirmed that 12 of them should be enough to maintain sufficient water flows in the river.
Houle said that when the wet weather returns and the lake level again rises to higher levels that will support 4.5 CMS by gravity feed, the pumps will be turned off and the river flow will revert back.
“Weather conditions show continuing dry weather for next seven days,” he said.
“Wet weather is indicated for the end of the second week in September.”
Catalyst is also warning boaters on Cowichan Lake to operate their craft with “extreme caution” once the pumping starts.
Water levels in Cowichan Lake are expected to drop by as much as 20 inches once the pumping begins, and that could uncover unexpected navigational hazards in the lake.
“The marking of hazards to navigation in Cowichan Lake has begun and will ramp up this week and in advance of the busy long weekend,” Houle said
“The lake has many hazards to navigation present already and the pumps have not yet begun to draw the lake level down. Boaters are encouraged to use extreme caution in Cowichan Lake due to the many hazards at these low lake levels.”
Chuck Walls, general manager at Catalyst Crofton, said the company has been collaboratively managing the Cowichan River since 2002 with First Nations, local government and other key stakeholders.
“Working together, we can get through this latest drought,” he said.
“Our top priorities are the protection of Cowichan Lake, Cowichan River and the town’s water supply.”