Restrictions ordered to save fish in parched Cowichan Valley river

Province says Koksilah River fish populations under threat due to low water flows

The province has begun restricting water use by select users on the Koksilah River to protect fish populations, which are under threat due to low water flows in the river.

Biologists from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development have determined that current flow levels are so low that habitat conditions are severely degraded and fish populations may be threatened.

From now until Sept. 30, specified licences that authorize water use directly from the Koksilah River and its tributaries, and users of wells in aquifers that are hydraulically connected to the river, must cease all diversion and use of water for industrial purposes and for irrigation of forage crops, such as hay and corn.

RELATED STORY: GOVERNMENT SENDS LETTER URGING CONSERVATION TO USERS IN KOKSILAH WATERSHED

The flow of water in the Koksilah River has dropped below 180 litres per second, which is less than two per cent of mean annual discharge, and may be trending downward.

The region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades and water basins in the region are only getting about two thirds of the water they used to get in spring and summer.

A letter from David Robinson, the province’s assistant water manager for the west coast region, that was sent in June to residents with wells and water licences in the Koksilah watershed area said that if the water levels in the watershed reach critically low levels, as forecasts were indicating at the time, regulatory action may be triggered which may include restricting water use under the province’s Water Sustainability Act.

The Koksilah River supports significant aquatic ecosystems and fish species, including steelhead, coho salmon and trout.

These fish populations are important to local First Nations and provide economic benefits.

Ministry staff will be conducting compliance checks in the Koksilah River watershed for the duration of the fish population protection order, according to a press release.

RELATED STORY: DRYING COWICHAN LAKE COULD CREATE BOATING HAZARDS

By restricting water use for irrigation of forage crops, such as hay and corn, but allowing water use for stock watering and irrigation of perennial crops and vegetables, water flows should be restored to a level sufficient to maintain fish populations while minimizing effects on users, such as the agricultural sector.

Steps toward developing a water sustainability plan for the Koksilah River watershed are being taken, which is anticipated to help with overall water management in the area.

In the event water flows recover to above 180 litres per second on a sustained basis following any significant precipitation events, the province may revoke the order.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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