Cowichan Valley.

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Mark Edwards says many of his fondest memories are tied to Cowichan’s water. He remembers the rite of passage of jumping off Lake Cowichan’s car bridge into the water below, and how good it still feels to swim in it.

Who pays for Cowichan water?

It’s why we live here. No wonder the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s referendum on water is bringing up big questions.

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It’s not a stretch to say that people in the Cowichan Valley really care about our water. We love drinking it, playing on it, swimming in it, and even just looking at it.

I first met Mark Edwards, 32, when he sold me a car. I asked him for an interview as part of a series I’m doing to better get to know the Cowichan Valley and its people. Mark grew up in Lake Cowichan and recently moved back to pursue nursing school. When I asked him to suggest a spot to meet that meant something to him, he picked his home town’s Central Park, by the fountain, near where the car bridge crosses the Cowichan River.

Mark, like so many of us, feels at home when he’s close to the water.

Your question, answered

I asked Mark if he has a question about water management in the Cowichan Valley and the upcoming referendum on watershed protection. He asked this:

“Why are we supplying Crofton and everywhere else with that aqueduct? And how much are they paying for our water to do that? Because I feel maybe they should be paying even the fisheries—Fisheries and Oceans—some money. Because they’re taking away from that and they’re draining our lake.”

There’s a lot going on with this question, so bear with me. Here’s some of what I can tell you:

  • Water from the Cowichan River and other sources doesn’t belong to any group of people or government—It’s considered a common resource that is managed by the province.
  • The Catalyst paper mill diverts water from the Cowichan River to supply its operations and the nearby community of Crofton, pop. 1,376 in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.
  • With the exception of wells supplying private homes, anyone pulling water from Cowichan’s lakes, rivers, and aquifers needs a water license, issued by the B.C. government. The province charges annual rent based on how much water is taken and what it’s used for. That money goes into B.C.’s general revenues and isn’t specially put aside for helping fisheries.
  • Catalyst currently pays $99,000 in annual rent for its water licence, Catalyst’s environment manager, Brian Houle, told me in an email.
  • The town of Lake Cowichan, pop. 3,226 in 2016, also pays a fee to the B.C. government to pull water out of the system. Crofton’s water system uses less than half as much water as Lake Cowichan’s, according to CVRD data.
  • Catalyst uses a lot more water. While the town of Lake Cowichan’s weekly water use in 2015 ranged from about 10,000 to 17,000 cubic metres, Catalyst’s averaged just over a million.
  • Catalyst built the Lake Cowichan weir in 1957 to make sure it had enough water through the summer for its operations. Today, the company still owns and operates the weir, but many others benefit from it. Fisheries benefit because it’s possible to maintain minimum river flows through the dry months.

I’ll add that the upcoming CVRD referendum on water wouldn’t give the CVRD any power to step on the B.C. government’s toes when it come to managing water licences. The CVRD wants to use the money—with a cap of $750,000 a year, paid for by a property tax increase—to identify where in the regional district there is a risk of having not enough water (or polluted water) and tackle problem areas before they become crises..

News of the week

  • Frazer Smith-George, a missing teenager from Cowichan Tribes, has been found safe, the Lake Cowichan Gazette reports.
  • The pulp mill company Paper Excellence has struck an agreement to purchase Catalyst Paper, including its Crofton pulp mill, the Vancouver Sun reports. The deal won’t go through until it has been approved by the B.C. Supreme Court and Catalyst shareholders. In Crofton it’s “business as usual for now,” Catalyst Paper’s environment manager, Brian Houle, told The Discourse in an email.
  • CHEK News reports that BC Ferries is planning changes to its reservation system. It says it will work like buying an airline ticket, which presumably means you can expect to pay more to book popular sailings. BC Ferries says that the system is designed to reduce waits, and that prices may drop for less popular sailings.

Let’s gather

  • Oct. 13: The BC Green Party is hosting a panel discussion on proportional representation featuring MLA Sonia Furstenau, MP Elizabeth May, and past MP Jean Crowder.
  • Oct. 14: The HUB at Cowichan Station at the Cowichan Valley Arts Council will co-host a Harvest Bowl fundraiser. Come for homemade soup and leave with the handmade pottery bowl.
  • Oct. 15: The monthly Cowichan Valley Green Drinks social event is being held at the Craig Street Brew Pub.

Know of an event that should be featured here? Send me an email.