Celebrating Restoration Work in the Koksilah River Watershed

On September 23rd, 2022, Farmland Advantage invited project partners to come together and celebrate the ongoing restoration work taking place in the Koksilah River Watershed. Most projects took place along the Koksilah River, Xwulqw’selu Sta’lo’, which is located south of Duncan in the Cowichan Region of Vancouver Island and lies within the traditional territories of Cowichan Tribes and Malahat Nation.

Farmland Advantage in the Koksilah River Watershed:

Farmland Advantage targets high risk and high opportunity areas in BC based on pre-determined selection criteria. The program is not open to applications, instead Farmland Advantage advisors contact farmers whose land falls within the criteria and invite them to participate in the program. The Koksilah River Watershed was identified under the program, and, after extensive GIS mapping and community engagement, Farmland Advantage began working in the watershed in 2021.  In total, 10 farms were contacted to participate. From the farms that were contacted, six of those were contracted for work, and two to three are interested in beginning their own projects next year.

“We brought those farmers together in meetings, and one on one in meetings with planning advisors and with biologists to talk specifically about the work that they would like to see on their farms,” says Ione Smith, Program Manager with Farmland Advantage.

The actions being taken to restore and protect these sensitive areas include conducting site-based economic assessments and Riparian Health Assessments (RHA); creating site-based management plans; removing invasive species and planting native species; and installing strategic fencing.

Riparian Area Before Restoration WorkRiparian Area After Restoration Work

Before and after slider of the restoration work completed on the Wilson site.

So far, over thirty-six hectares of riparian land has been protected in the Koksilah River Watershed, which includes over 250 meters of waterways. There are also plans to expand the program, “As we go forward, we are going to hopefully bring on more and more farmers so that in the future we will see that exponential growth in the amount of land protected.”

Funding for these projects was provided by the Province of British Columbia, including through the Real Estate Foundation of BC’s Healthy Watersheds Initiative in 2021/22. Farmland Advantage is an Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC Program.

Celebrating Hard Work:

The event was kicked off by Ione Smith, Project Manager for Farmland Advantage. She graciously welcomed everyone and spoke to the importance of protecting and restoring the riparian habitat in the watershed.

“One of the reasons why Farmland Advantage is so important in this watershed is that the Koksilah Watershed is a vulnerable area in terms of water quantity, it is often impacted by drought, particularly during dry years, and so farms are impacted in the amount of water they are able to use for irrigation.”

Ione Smith speaking at FLA's Celebratory Event.
Ione Smith speaking at FLA's Celebratory Event.

As event attendees arrived at Bright Angel Park, the picturesque location where the event was held, hugs and smile were shared all around.  More than twenty guests arrived, which included a mix of Cowichan Tribes staff, agricultural producers, members of the Cowichan Watershed Board, Cowichan Valley Regional District ecological restoration workers, Watersheds BC staff, and Investment Agriculture Foundation staff.

Despite the challenges that the Koksilah River is facing, there was a feeling of hope in the air. Ken Elliot, a Cowichan Tribe Member, and long-time salmon activist, spoke about the ways in which humans are hurting nature, and thanked the participants on behalf of the salmon whose habitat they are helping to protect.

Other community members also spoke, including Zita Botelho, the Director of Watersheds BC. “The work that Farmland Advantage is doing is absolutely critical and I look forward to a long life for this important work. I really want to extend my gratitude to all of the people who have participated in the program – no one can do it alone.”

Following the opening speeches guests were treated to a delicious meal prepared by Farm’s Gate Foods and Catering which was made with all local ingredients. After lunch the farm participants were presented with their own FLA participant sign which they can display proudly on their farm.

Preparing the riparian area for planting on Tattam Farms.

A special thank you was given to Dave Tattam, who worked closely with Farmland Advantage to get farmers involved in riparian plantings and stream works. When asked about why he chose to participate, Tattam replied “We felt it was an advantage for us and to our farm to reduce having to excavate grass out of the stream; it is also going to improve water quality in our stream and provide better habitat to the fish and wildlife that use it.”

 A special thank you was also given to Wayne Haddow, who was the planning advisor for all six farms, as well as Elodie Roger, who led the restoration work. Dave specifically remembers Elodie arriving rain or shine.

I just want to say a special thank you to Elodie who was in charge of the planting. It was pretty horrible weather last fall and I really appreciate the work.

Dave Tattam, Tattam Farms

About the Koksilah River:

Water supply has been an ongoing issue in the Koksilah River. Due to climate change, the area is already experiencing warmer winters with more rain and less snow, which will result in lower snowpacks that supply streams and rivers with meltwater into the summer months. This reduced water supply is compounded for the Koksilah River, as it does not have a headwater lake.

The Koksilah River in Bright Angel Park.

The Koksilah River supports pacific salmon, steelhead trout, resident trout, and chinook salmon, all of which are vitally important in the cultural and ecological makeup of the area. Low water levels and warmer temperatures make returning to spawn very difficult for salmon and can cause mass die offs. In recent years – 2019 and 2021 – the Province has issued orders to restrict water use on the river to protect the health of fish during particularly low summer flows.

Despite the challenges the Koksilah River faces, there is ample hope to go around. Farmland Advantage is just one of several programs and initiatives working to improve the situation in the Koksilah watershed.

In 2020 a Group Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) was created on behalf of farmers located within the Koksilah River watershed. One outcome from this EFP was local farmers adopting a low flow irrigation schedule to reduce water use as an interim measure to address water shortages during dry periods.

In January 2022 a Water Sustainability Plan was initiated for Koksilah River Watershed. The plan, which will be the first of its kind in BC., will address concerns in the watershed related to water availability, low flows, critical fish habitat, Indigenous cultural resources, and other identified issues.

Bank stabilization work completed on the Westwick site.

There are also many stakeholder groups working in the area, including the Cowichan Watershed Board, Cowichan Tribes First Nation, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Watersheds BC, and many more.

All these current and ongoing restoration efforts will improve water quality, biodiversity, and habitats for at-risk fish populations and other wildlife. As Zita said, no one can do it alone, and Farmland Advantage is proud to be one piece of the solution.

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