Editorial: Why we should pay attention to year of water firsts

We need to pay attention, because these are not one-off events.

One story in recent weeks hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved.

It’s understandable that with all of the momentous events happening around the world and across Canada right now the 2019 annual report from the Cowichan Watershed Board wasn’t at the top of most people’s minds.

But with plenty of other things going on to collectively distract us, we thought we should explain a little bit further as to why we should all sit up and pay attention.

The report talked about a series of unwelcome firsts that were experienced in 2019 when it comes to Cowichan Valley water.

It described how the Cowichan River, in their words, was put on “life support” last summer as pumps were used for the first time to keep the river flowing with water from behind the weir at Cowichan Lake. Pumps had been installed a couple of times before, but the rains always came in the nick of time to make their use redundant. Not so in 2019.

And the Cowichan River wasn’t the only waterway in the Cowichan Valley to slow to a relative trickle. The province was forced to stop farmers from irrigating forage crops due to critically low water flows in the Koksilah watershed, something that has never been done before.

Small wonder that governments in the Cowichan Valley declared climate change an emergency for the first time as well.

And that’s to say nothing of the issues facing the Chemainus River and its watershed, which has also suffered during the droughts that have become the new normal in summer (only to flood the surrounding area in early 2020, wrecking homes and properties).

We need to pay attention, because these are not one-off events. On the contrary, where we found ourselves last summer has been a long time coming, predicted by everyone who has been looking closely at our mighty watersheds over the last decade and more. And while it’s difficult to fathom as we experience Junuary, we are by no means guaranteed by the cool weather now to dodge the same fate this summer.

We all must plan as if this is just the first time of many to come where we will be pumping water into the Cowichan, and trying to conserve on the Koksilah. We must examine our water use, each of us, and we must support the building of a new, higher, weir at Cowichan Lake to better store the winter water we do get.

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