The province is moving forward with plans to establish observation wells to get a clearer picture of the Koksilah watershed. (File photo)

New wells will monitor sensitive Vancouver Island watershed after critical drought in 2019

Project intended to help with water management in south Cowichan’s Koksilah system

The province plans to begin extensively monitoring the Koksilah watershed, which saw water restrictions implemented last summer.

At a meeting of the board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District on Jan. 8, the district’s environment manager Kate Miller reported that the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development intends to establish a series of observation wells in the watershed to help gather key information to allow for better water management in the area.

RELATED STORY: PROVINCE BEGINS RESTRICTING WATER USE ON KOKSILAH RIVER

Two of those observation wells will be in Jack Fleetwood Memorial Park, which is owned by the CVRD, and the board gave permission for the wells to proceed at the meeting.

The wells are scheduled to be installed in early 2020.

“The site will provide key information related to both the shallower sand and gravel aquifer, as well as the deeper fractured bedrock aquifer and their overall relationship to the river and atmospheric conditions,” Miller said in a report.

“This information will provide a higher level of management control to the Koksilah system, as well as key information to the development of the Koksilah water sustainability plan that is currently in development by the province.”

Ground and surface water resources in the Koksilah watershed are currently deemed to be over allocated, with more water extraction than the watershed can support, leading to substantial impacts on fisheries survival and continued development.

A temporary curtailment of water licences in the Koksilah watershed was triggered late last summer by order of the province when water levels reached critically low levels to help reduce the impact of low water levels on fisheries.

RELATED STORY: FARMER’S WORRY ABOUT WATER AVAILABILITY IN COWICHAN VALLEY’S KOKSILAH WATERSHED

“Little information is [currently] available to inform ongoing management or land-use decisions, or a more robust understanding of the aquifer’s dynamics,” Miller said.

“Due to the current urgency of attaining information in the Koksilah watershed area, the province will be covering the entire cost of both drilling the wells, installation of the necessary monitoring and telemetry data loggers and ongoing maintenance.”

As part of the bigger picture of water issues within the district, the board also gave approval at the meeting for the CVRD to develop a memorandum of agreement with the province for the design, installation and operation of a network of hydrometric monitoring stations to support the district’s new water protection service within the region.

The establishment of the water protection service, which was determined in a referendum last year, provides the CVRD with the mandate to develop and implement specific watershed management activities, which will inform both land use planning and infrastructure needs across the district.

RELATED STORY: AFFORDABLE HOUSING, WATER PROTECTION REFERENDUMS BOTH PASS

There are currently 58 mapped aquifers wholly or partially within CVRD boundaries.

Miller said the 16 active observation wells in the CVRD currently provide limited information on groundwater levels for 10 of the aquifers in the region.

“To fully understand the dynamics of the region’s groundwater resources, a much more robust network of observation wells across many more aquifers must be established,” she said.

“This proposed partnership with the province will provide long-term and stable data warehousing, technical oversight and financial support. The groundwater monitoring strategy will be linked to the surface hydrometric network to build a more robust understanding of the region’s water resources for strategic planning purposes, and to inform future settlement patterns and infrastructure.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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