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Water to be pumped into Cowichan River from lake starting next week

The goal is for the river to maintain current flow conditions of about 4.5 cubic metres per second to protect fish.

Pumping of water from Cowichan Lake into the Cowichan River could begin as soon as Monday to keep river flow rates from dropping too low.

The Catalyst pulp and paper mill, owned by Paper Excellence, uses pumps periodically when conditions become dry.

The goal is for the river to maintain current flow conditions of about 4.5 cubic metres per second to protect fish.

River advocates are especially worried about the river this year following an mass die-off of fish this summer. In July, hundreds of tiny salmon and trout frywere discovered dead at the bottom of a canyon at the base of Skutz Falls.

The Cowichan River is known as an unusually diverse river because of the types of salmon and trout it supports.

Fears about the state of the river prompted the province to cancel a planned opening for anglers this month. The fishing closure runs to mid-November, when theprovince will review the situation.

Pumping is authorized by the province’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Catalyst will manage the pumping, which willcontinue until water levels rise with fall rain and cooler temperatures.

Brian Houle, environment manager for Catalyst Crofton pulp and paper mill, said Thursday the company will attempt to minimize any impacts from water pumping toprotect the river and lake.

“We have engaged authorities and consultants to provide oversight and surveillance during pumping operations.”

This is the 14th drought in the Cowichan Basin since 1998, the company said.

Last winter saw a below-average snowpack followed by a drought starting in mid-May, leading to low lake levels.

Catalyst says it works with local stakeholders including First Nations and government to manage the water levels.

The mill needs water to operate but its operations have been curtailed for much of this year. The latest planned reopening has been put off to the end of this month dueto poor paper markets. To protect those using the lake and river, a guide familiar with Cowichan Lake will deploy buoys to highlight any new hazards to navigation, thecompany said.

Boaters in the lake are being warned to be extremely cautious and watch for navigational hazards. The weir spill gates, weir, pumps and discharge area in the river are allnot accessible.

Canadian Coast Guard officials are guiding Catalyst on deployment of buoys to mark the temporary hazards to navigation.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com