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Cause Confirmed for Cowichan River Fish Kill

If anyone had listened years ago to concerned citizens pleading for a new weir on the Cowichan River, would the fish kill this summer have occurred?

Check out the full news story from West Coast Now here, otherwise read on for our recap and thoughts.

In July, the lesion-covered bodies of thousands of trout and salmon were discovered in the dangerously shallow waters of the river, drawing international attention.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has just reported the cause as “environmental stress.” That’s shorthand for low water flow, acidic water, scorching temperatures, and a lack of food.

The Cowichan is one of B.C.’s most productive rivers for spawning salmon. B.C. residents rely on such rich rivers for jobs and food. But the Chinook, coho, and steelhead that depend on the Cowichan are at risk from low water levels: a reality the Cowichan Water Use Plan warned of five years ago.

B.C. watersheds are suffering from mismanagement and the B.C. government’s inability to effectively deal with the climate crisis amidst ongoing environmental disasters. This has resulted in events like the Cowichan River fish kill happening with increasing frequency. Healthy freshwater is essential for jobs, food, industry, and the future of all communities. But the Province’s inability to properly manage this precious resource suggests it takes freshwater for granted, despite their rhetoric suggesting otherwise. One job that our government has is risk mitigation. The province needs to take these jobs seriously and do better.

Funding a new weir on the Cowichan River to account for new risks “should be a no-brainer,” CodeBlue noted earlier this year, as the drought gripped the province and river levels fell.

The existing weir was built more than six decades ago. It was designed to store enough water during the rainy season to ensure abundant fish habitat in the summer while also meeting the water needs of the community. The existing weir is no longer capable of doing this, which is why a Cowichan Valley-based coalition launched the Cowichan Lake Weir Design Project. The completion of the new weir, however, relies on the Province stepping up and matching federal funding. 

The B.C. government has made a big deal about its $100 million Watershed Security Fund. But as CodeBlue BC previously noted, only the interest earned from the fund will be spent each year, which is a mere $5 million. This is not even enough to cover part of a new weir on the Cowichan.

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  • Meghan Rooney
    published this page in Stories 2023-09-14 13:38:10 -0700