The watershed restoration work along the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers was celebrated on June 3 at Cowichan Tribes’ Clem Clem Longhouse, where the two rivers meet.
The area on Tzouhalem Road has undergone three significant flooding events in the last two years, and was one of the focal points of the $3-million in provincial funding for the restoration work.
This work included the removal of more than 4,140 truckloads of gravel in the watersheds, as well as significant log jams, in 2021.
On Friday, members of Cowichan Tribes, provincial funding partners, contractors, staff and invited guests gathered to acknowledge their achievements in helping to restore the watershed.
Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and Crofton’s Catalyst mill also signed a memorandum of understanding at the celebration to work together to ensure that a long-term water supply for the region is achieved.
“This is an important opportunity to demonstrate recognition and respect for Cowichan jurisdiction and leadership,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.
“This level of investment, collaboration and shared decision making is crucial. I am thankful for the investments that have been made by all partners. We must continue this level of collaboration and recognition, as we face climate change and seek meaningful reconciliation with each other as well as our natural systems that support us.”
It has been determined that removing the gravel and sediment from the watersheds last year helped protect the region from even more severe flooding during the major flooding event that hit the area last November, and the ongoing removal of gravel and log jams in these rivers, is key to protecting local communities from future flooding events.
Provincial funding for the watershed restoration work was provided by the Healthy Watershed Initiative.
This included $2.3 million for sediment management and $500,000 for work supporting the development a Water Sustainability Plan in the Xwulqwselu (Koksilah) watershed, which is being developed in collaboration with the province.
The Healthy Watersheds Initiative is a $27-million program, supported by the province, to stimulate British Columbia’s economic recovery through investments in watershed conservation and restoration.
Josie Osborne, the province’s Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship, said she joined Chief Hwitsum in April to see firsthand some of the work Cowichan Tribes is doing to restore these ecologically and culturally important rivers.
They visited two projects; a water sustainability plan for the Koksilah River to benefit fish and water users, as well as sediment removal and habitat rehabilitation for the Koksilah and Cowichan rivers, an integral part of the five-year river management plan.
“Our Budget 2022 commitment of $30 million is supporting more watershed restoration partnerships like this that will maintain healthy environments, support climate resiliency, generate jobs across the province and build a stronger B.C.,” Osborne said.
Larry George, Cowichan Tribes’ director of Lands and Self-Governance, said that while the work done in 2021 helped protect the community from severe flooding in November, unfortunately, the rising waters deposited more sediment and logs.
“We know that ongoing removal of gravel and log jams in these rivers is key to not only protecting our community from future flooding events, but also protecting and restoring crucial fish habitat,” he said.
As for the MOU between Cowichan Tribes, CVRD and Catalyst, Kate Miller, the CVRD’s manager of environmental services, said the three organizations have been informally managing the water in the Cowichan River for years, and are looking to determine what the future governance model should look like.
“Now the two local governments and the company will get together directly to discuss this,” she said.