Catalyst is warning boaters on Cowichan Lake to operate their craft with “extreme caution” if plans to pump lake water over the weir and into the Cowichan River move forward.
Water levels in Cowichan Lake are expected to drop by as much as 20 inches if the pumping begins in mid-August, as currently planned, and that could uncover unexpected navigational hazards in the lake.
Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst, said the main concern is areas close to the middle, deeper, parts of the lake where boaters are used to travelling through with the presumption that there is adequate water depth and their way is clear, as it always has been before.
“Things like dead heads and rocks could be closer to the surface and, while they were never hazards before, they could be if we have to resort to pumping and lake levels continue to drop,” Houle said.
“We’ll be working with Coast Guard Canada to attach navigational hazard markers, including buoys, to the hazards as they are identified to make the public well aware of them and warn boaters to use extra caution around them.”
Catalyst’s Crofton pulp mill, which depends on water from the Cowichan River to run its operations, is planning to begin pumping water over its weir in Lake Cowichan as of mid-August if the region doesn’t get sufficient rain over the next few weeks to raise the water levels in the lake.
The region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades and water basins in the region, including Cowichan Lake, are only getting about two thirds of the water they used to get in spring and summer.
The licence that Catalyst has been given by the province to draw water from the Cowichan River requires that the company keep an eye on what’s happening on Cowichan Lake, where the river water originates, and identify hazards to navigation.
Houle said fortunately the Cowichan Valley Regional District led a topography project in the last five years to map the bottom of the lake in anticipation of just such a situation.
He said the map will be useful in helping to determine where navigational hazards can be expected when water levels drop.
“We already have a good sense of what’s there and it’s been determined that the lake is well suited for lower water levels,” he said.
“There will also be more hazards closer to shore with dropping water levels and boaters need to exercise caution there as well. But most boaters are much more cautious and careful with their navigation as they approach land.”
Houle said Catalyst hopes that enough rain will fall between now and mid-August to make turning on the pumps unnecessary and water levels in the lake will stabilize.
“It may also be that we may have to pump for just a few days,” he said.
“We just don’t know.”