Catalyst Paper is trying to find a balance between aiding a salmon run and having to shut down its operations.
Continuing dry conditions have created the possibility that the company will run out of water about Oct. 31, curtailing or halting operations, said Brian Houle, environmental manager at Crofton mill.
Catalyst holds the water licence for a weir managed by the Forests Ministry.
The water behind the weir can be released to raise downstream levels in the Cowichan River, but its levels are also low.
"But we do appreciate that it's the chinook spawning time and we are working with the caretakers of the fish," Houle said.
"Now the drought is hitting us squarely in the head and we have to do some planning."
About 550 people are employed at the mill, a paper and pulp manufacturing division. Major products include newsprint, directory paper and kraft pulp, which is used to manufacture printing, writing and tissue papers.
"If we give the water to the chinook, then we would have to shut down earlier," Houle said.
Cowichan Valley Regional District will discuss next week whether to follow the province's suggestion and apply for an water storage licence, which would allow more water to be stored.
But that will not help the situation this year and there are costs involved in a water licence, said Kate Miller, CVRD environmen-al policy manager.
The weir would probably have to be rebuilt and there are financial questions such as possible compensation to waterfront property owners, she said.
A report this week from the provincial River Forecast Centre said river levels on the Tsolum, Koksilah and Sarita rivers and Tofino and Carnation creeks are below normal levels.
"Normally, October is the month when weather patterns shift and coastal areas of B.C. transition into the fall wet season. It is expected that coastal rivers will recover quickly once this transition occurs," the report says.
One bright spot for Greater Victoria residents is that the Sooke Reservoir is 70.8 per cent full.
However, the fire risk in southern Vancouver Island forests remains extremely high and the provincial Coastal Fire Centre is appealing for extreme caution this Thanksgiving weekend.
"The fuels in the forest are very dry and warm, breezy days with no precipitation will not lower danger ratings in the forsee-able futures," says a statement.
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