This spring, the province created a new B.C. Watershed Security Fund, which will spend an estimated $5 million annually on watershed renewal. This Fund needs to be at least ten times its current scale to have province-wide impact and should be funded by fees and penalties on those having the greatest impact on our watersheds, like large industrial water users.
Second, when low flows are threatening fish survival, the province should be issuing fish protection orders that require heavier water users, such as industry or agriculture, to use less water. These legal orders exist under B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act for this exact purpose. Yet during last fall’s drought, when thousands of fish were stranded and perished in dried-up streams, not a single order was issued. This year, orders should have been issued weeks ago, but none have been declared so far.
Third, the province needs to crack down much harder on unlicensed groundwater users. Groundwater aquifers provide clean, cold water to our salmon streams—a lifeline during drought—and it’s time to end the poaching of this precious resource.
Finally, governments must empower local watershed boards to identify and implement the most effective drought prevention measures for their regions and to find collaborative solutions to water scarcity. The Cowichan watershed, already at drought level 5 (out of 5), provides a prime example of why governments need to support stronger local direction and decision-making.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Watershed Board, community organisations, and Catalyst Crofton all agree on the need to raise the weir at Cowichan Lake. This will provide additional water storage in winter that can be released in the summer to keep the river flowing. For nearly a decade, this community has asked for provincial funds to do this work. Even now, with federal dollars on the table, the provincial government is dragging its feet. Two weeks ago, thousands of young salmon and trout were found dead in the river.
Despite a brief period of rain, drought is expected to continue for weeks, with temperatures rising, and many creeks in the region not adequately protected by streamside vegetation, we are on high alert for more mass fish kills.
Our provincial and federal governments have the tools at their disposal to do so much more to support communities in preparing for drought and to prevent the most serious impacts of water scarcity, such as these devastating fish die-offs.
When British Columbians are asked as individuals to do their part, we should ask, when will our governments do theirs?