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“There’s a lot of great resources in this watershed that we want to sustain and keep—the primary one that got us all here is salmon”- Larry George, Director of Land and Governance, Cowichan Tribes in Twinned Watersheds 2022: Project Overview Video.

Today, studies show that exceptionally low summer flows in the Koksilah River, combined with increasing water demands are threatening the health of the watershed. This includes the survival of fish species and the aquatic ecosystem as well as Cowichan Tribes rights and practices, the livelihoods of farmers and other business owners, and the quality of life and mental health of all residents.

Simultaneously, the combination of land use practices, historic and ongoing laws and decisions, and climate change is causing more extreme flooding and drought, with long-term and compounding damage. Lack of water security is a cause of conflict between humans and the environment, and between different groups using water.

It is a challenging time for many who live in the watershed.

Significant short-term measures to respond to low flows are already being taken at all levels. Among other measures, Cowichan Tribes is working on reducing the impacts of flooding through infrastructure grants, the BC Government has issued Temporary Fish Protection Orders in 2019, 2021, and 2023, and voluntary irrigation reduction schedules have been implemented by the watershed’s largest agricultural producers. In addition, there are a variety of short-term programs aimed at providing funding and reducing impacts to those experiencing the realities of reduced water availability.


Many organizations are working hard to better understand the issues so that solutions will be targeted and effective, and in the meantime, to support the well-being of residents and local cultures. Visit the websites of these partners and linked organizations to learn more. 

Looking Ahead

Action is needed. Orders and actions taken to date have proven necessary and effective for helping fish survive. They also demonstrate strong commitment of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members and governments alike. But they also create socio-economic uncertainty and cost, especially for farmers and food security.  In the face of worsening climate change, drought response actions are not enough to improve the long-term outlook.  

A plan is needed. Cowichan Tribes and the Province of BC are working with local communities to develop a plan for the whole of the Watershed. This plan will include a legal tool introduced in 2016 by the Water Sustainability Act— A Water Sustainability Plan (WSP). A WSP enables new, locally tailored regulations to be created to help prevent or address water conflicts and risks to ecosystem health. This is expected to be the first WSP in BC and people working to address similar issues in other watersheds across BC will learn from this experience. Learn more about WSPs on our resources page.

Other legal tools from both Cowichan Tribes and the Province (e.g., land use planning instruments, additional Water Sustainability Act provisions, Treaty, etc.), combined with voluntary measures that can be taken by local residents, businesses, industry or stewardship organizations, may also be used to achieve the vision laid out in the Government-to-Government Agreement

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