I had a call the other day from a resident who was concerned about access to drinking water. “Will we run out?” she asked.
It’s understandable people are anxious about North Cowichan’s residential water supply in the midst of a level 4 drought, local and provincial governments driving waters users to reduce water consumption by 20%, the Cowichan River supply critically low, and news of depleted aquifers south of us. Makes you wonder if that tall glass of water you just reached for will be your last. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers that may reduce anxiety yet affirm our caution to limit water use:
With the Cowichan River so low, will we run out of drinking water?
We will not run out of drinking water.
North Cowichan draws most its residential water from an underground aquifer, not the Cowichan river. There are some exceptions, like Chemainus and Crofton.
Crofton gets its residential water from the Catalyst mill, which draws water from the Cowichan River. Catalyst has an agreement with North Cowichan to provide residential water to Crofton, unless the mill shuts down. We had word this week that Catalyst does not anticipate shutting the mill this summer, even though their productivity may decrease due to a reduction in the amount of water they draw from the river. If the mill did shut down, Crofton’s back-up water supply is Crofton Lake.
Chemainus gets its drinking water from a well part of the year and from Banon Creek for the rest of the year. North Cowichan is working towards drawing water from the Chemainus wells year round. There is an updated description of the Chemainus well project on the North Cowichan website.
Is the aquifer full of water?
The Ministry of Environment (MoE) and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) monitor water level, temperature, and obtain samples for groundwater quality on a semi-annual basis.
You can view water-level graphs on North Cowichan’s wells here (wells 204, 211, and 318 are along the Cowichan River; Chemainus is 355). These reports are showing no trend in decreasing water levels in the aquifer over time, meaning it replenishes every winter.
If our groundwater is plentiful, why do we need to adhere to water restrictions?
I believe there are two main reasons why we are asking residents to continue to drive dirty cars and let our lawns go brown: caution and uncertainty.
We are being cautious because we don’t know how much rain and snow is on its way this (and every) year to recharge the aquifer.
We are uncertain as to the relationship between the Cowichan river and our aquifer. Studies are underway to learn if the water drawn from the aquifer is impacting the river flows. I asked a helpful groundwater protection officer at FLNRO what we know about this relationship and received this answer:
“…staff from FLNRO and MOE have been working on a multi-year study of interactions between the Cowichan River and the underlying aquifers. Preliminary results of this work suggest that, in general, the river is gaining in the upper reaches, and losing within lower reaches (floodplain) as a result of natural processes. Natural losses to groundwater are common on floodplains and fans depending on a number of factors. Work is continuing to evaluate whether there is evidence that groundwater extraction is enhancing losses from the river. At present the results are inconclusive regarding this question. The results of this study are preliminary and work on this question is still ongoing.”
Will post study results here when available.
It’s impressive how many residents have made adjustments to their water use beyond adhering to the water restrictions: Pouring half-drunk glasses of water into plants, emptying bath water onto flower gardens, taking pride in one’s dirty car.
There are those who have yet to embrace this change. Social media is being used to compare North Cowichan homes with green lawns to the golden brown lawn—this year’s trend—next door. While shaming neighbours publicly may be popular in California, and may change behaviour, there are more friendly ways of addressing the issue.
If you find yourself in the presence of a green lawn (that wasn’t spray painted green) or a power-washed driveway, here are some options on how to deal with it:
- Let them know why we’re restricting water use (see above).
- Tell them how to research the issue for themselves at the resources below.
- Ask our bylaw officer Rob Clark (250-746-3100) to stop by for a chat.
- Visit the CVRD’s The New Normal Cowichan website for up-to-date data on the Cowichan Valley’s above and ground water sources.
- Most of us are aware of the great concern about the Cowichan River, but for a succinct summary, read this article that appeared on the front page of the Times Colonist. For more information, visit the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society.
- Find data on North Cowichan’s wells here (204, 211, and 318 are along the Cowichan River; Chemainus is 355).
- Register complaints with Rob Clark, Bylaw Officer: 250-746-3100. Keep in mind, Rob is part-time bylaw officer, part-time assistant fire commissioner, so if you don’t hear from him immediately, or if he doesn’t deal the complaint right away, he’s dealing with other issues. Be assured, your request is on his list.