Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society



2018 State of the Lake Report


Cowichan Lake & River Stewards have contributed 2,000 volunteer hours every year for the last 8 years protecting and preserving the Cowichan watershed through our core activities:

<for a printable version of this report, click here>

* shoreline riparian area restoration and landowner education

* rescuing stranded salmon fry

* cleaning up the upper Cowichan river

* monitoring water quality

* working with students and providing public education

* erecting signs on fish bearing streams


Maintaining Year Round Flows in our World Famous Heritage River

Water monitoring, by CLRSS, Cowichan Watershed Board and Ministry of Environment in 2013 and in 2018, indicates water quality is meeting all Provincial water quality objectives for the Lake. And the impact of recent winter and spring turbidity issues on the Town of Lake Cowichan water system are now being addressed through new water treatment facilities due for completion this year. Current lake water quality is good, but long-term summer water quantity is becoming an issue.

Sixty-one years ago, a weir was built in Cowichan Lake to address the summer water quantity problems of that era, and we are all still profiting from that good work. Now it is our generations’ turn. We need action now in support of water security for the Valley in the years ahead.


Replacing the Old Weir

The effects of climate change on our watershed are already evident. This is what we are seeing.

* 33% decline in summer rainfall totals over last 2 decades

* warmer wetter winters, less snowpack, hotter drier summers

* 8 of last 15 and all of the last 4 summers were droughts



If we do nothing to increase storage in the Lake we will soon see:

* much lower summer lake levels on average,

* pumping water out of the lake to keep the river flowing

* salmon in the lake and river heavily impacted

* Cowichan River Estuary dewatered at times at the Bay,

* fishing tourism declining

* little tubing possible in future summers,

* less recharge of aquifers

* possible summer closures at Catalyst paper

* not enough water in summer for sewage dilution

But we are lucky. Cowichan Lake provides an excellent opportunity to increase water storage at the head of the watershed so that spring and summer flows in the river can be maintained. This will benefit everyone in the Valley but only if a new weir is built.

Two CLRSS Board members participated in the recently completed Cowichan Water Use Plan process, along with 18 other stakeholders from all over the valley. They spent several days last winter studying climate change projections and weighing various alternative designs for protecting our watershed ecosystems and securing our drinking water for future generations. Some of our members provided input to the technical working group for the process, along with First Nations, all levels of government, local NGOs and lakefront property owners.

A consensus rooted in excellent science was reached, recommending increasing the storage capacity of Cowichan Lake by 30 cm as soon as possible and to 70 cm when needed in the future. This group of valley citizens have produced a carefully considered plan to secure our water and showed us how working together at a district level can produce a way forward.


Cowichan Water Use Plan Summary

Increasing temperatures and less precipitation means:

  1. Less snowpack = less spring inflow for Cowichan Lake

  2. Higher temperatures = greater evaporation
  3. Less summer rain
  4. Longer dry periods

We need 8 to 12 more weeks of storage to meet current river flows in summer. The consensus Cowichan Water Use Plan developed this past winter can get us there.


  In summary, the consensus Water Use Plan proposes to:

* Increase the storage capacity of Cowichan Lake by 30 cm as soon as possible and to 70 cm when needed in the future, after further study and negotiation with impacted shoreline owners

* Allow temporary pumping over the weir in emergencies

* Start storing water and go on control on March 1st each year

* Ask the Provincial Government to hold the conservation license

* Call on senior levels of government to fund the weir construction


Here are two things you can do to help:

  1. Write Natural Resources Minister Donaldson in support of replacing the weir and ask the BC government to take on the necessary Water Conservation License.
    Mail to: PO Box 9428, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W 9V1
  2. Support the new CVRD Water Function so we have dedicated full-time district staff working on water issues and the CVRD can receive funds for water issues from other levels of government.

Cowichan Lake & River Stewards in Action this Past Year

Salmon Fry Rescue in the Cowichan River & Lake Tributaries

Every year, by the end of June, thousands of salmon fry are stranded in pools as the river flow decreases. Many tributaries to the Lake such as the Robertson River, Sutton Creek, Meade Creek and others also dry up. For a number of years, a dedicated crew of CLRSS volunteers, community members and Cowichan Tribes members have collaborated to save as many fry as possible by relocating them to the lake for summer survival. In 2018 this combined team moved upwards of 100,000 fry into the lake to help buttress future salmon stocks in the watershed.



Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project (CSSP)

For 5 years CLRSS, now in partnership with BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF), has worked with shoreline property owners at 41 sites to restore their shoreline. CSSP involves:

* Removing invasive species and planting native plants in their place; in many cases, the restoration addresses serious erosion problems

* Employing a crew of four secondary students during the summer months as well as a professional Project Manager, who plans the project with property owners and supervises the students

* Projects on both private and public properties – private areas such as Paradise Village in Honeymoon Bay, Lake Cowichan First Nation, individual properties on the Youbou shore and riverside in Lake Cowichan and public areas at Spring Beach, Lakeview Park, and the Mesachie Forestry Research Station

* Securing funding for wages, plants, and equipment through grant applications

Carrying out over 300 volunteer interviews with shoreline property owners to:

* help them understand the importance of intact and functioning riparian ecosystems

* engage them in conversation about the health of the lake and river

* survey them to gauge riparian awareness and values

* identify future project participants

* distribute the society’s brochure and a riparian brochure

In cooperation with landowners around the lake and along the river, we are well on our way to meeting our project goals: To promote a "stewardship first" culture, and to protect and enhance riparian areas.



River Clean Up 2018 Another Community Success

130+ volunteers joined our mascot Oxford the Otter for our tenth great river clean-up event. Due to the forest fires up-island, it was a smoky day, but after an enjoyable continental breakfast we were off!

With a flotilla of boats, squadrons of divers and snorkelers, and a troop on foot, we scoured the top, bottom and shores of the Upper Cowichan River for trash and beverage containers. Although the count of containers was down from previous years - a good sign - we managed to remove over a half a ton of trash and haul it to the dump. Thanks to everyone, volunteers, business sponsors and other individuals in the community, for helping us keep our world-famous Heritage river clean!

Respect (Our River)

Relax &
Protect Our
Care for Others &
Take Away Trash !

Working with Teachers and Students in Lake Cowichan

In recent years CLRSS has worked with a number of teachers and student groups on lake and river issues. We have regularly employed students in our summer riparian restoration work and have supported four students from Lake Cowichan Secondary through our annual $1000 Gerald Thom Student Bursary.

Upcoming Work

If you want to join us to work on watershed issues in your community, here are some things we are working on in the coming year:

  1. If you want help restoring your shoreline contact us. The CSSP will be running again next summer.

  2. Water monitoring continues in November and next summer too.

  3. Water pollution impacts of sunscreen use is of concern. We will be researching the issue this winter.

  4. We will be back out on fry rescue duty beginning in June.

  5. Planning for the Annual River Clean up begins in February.

  6. We meet on the first Monday of the month at 6:30 PM at the Country Grocer in Lake Cowichan. Please join us.

If any of these issues interest you send us an email at




For more detailed information on watershed issues check out these other websites:

Cowichan Watershed Board

Cowichan Water Use Plan



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Last updated: 11/15/18.