THE CURRENT CHALLENGE
“The Xwulqw'selu watershed is under pressure and we know the current path is not sustainable - for fish, for the ecosystem, or for people. We need to come together to develop a plan that protects the watershed's health and sustains Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Valley communities for generations to come,” -Chief Lydia Hwitsum
Today, studies show that exceptionally low summer flows in the Koksilah River, combined with increasing water demands and a degraded watershed ecosystem, 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 and climate change is causing more extreme flooding and drought, with long-term compounding damage. Conflict and concern between water users over water availability is increasing.
This 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. [Link to Linked Initiatives]
While these often unprecedented actions demonstrate the strong commitment of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members and governments, sadly, in the face of worsening climate change, they are not enough to improve the long-term outlook.
This is why Cowichan tribes and the Province of BC are working with communities to develop a
“whole of watershed” plan (from headwaters to estuary). This plan will rely on a critical and novel legal tool introduced in 2016 by the Water Sustainability Act— A Water Sustainability Plan (WSP) with powers to override other legislation when necessary to protect water. 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 [link].
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. (link)