Tractors, Canadian flags, stacks of hay, and “no farmers no food” signs were just some of the sights seen during a grassroots protest that took place on Wednesday in downtown Duncan, BC. Approximately, 100 concerned farmers and citizens participated in the Cowichan farmer-led “call to action” against Southern Vancouver Island’s massive 3-million-dollar Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project.
The project, which is the largest of its kind to ever hit Vancouver Island, promises to “restore the natural estuary processes,” improve ecosystem function, and “enhance the resilience of the estuary in the face of a changing climate” for the estuary and surrounding areas near Duncan. Concerns over the invasive measures the project uses in an effort to do so, including plans to flood close to 100 acres of fertile farmland at Cowichan Bay’s former historic Dinsdale Farm and convert it into marshland and tidal channels, have intensified since the project’s expansion plans were announced last June.
“Not only is the dairy farms and the farming at risk, but the bird population is at tremendous risk here because you will take away their nesting area, and their foraging for food,” Land Keepers Society founder, Jack Macleod, stated in a cautionary video released in the early weeks following the announcement.
In addition to converting level 1 productive farmland that cultivates food and other necessities such as hay, the project will be removing and expanding dykes. “They are going to increase the size of the dyke and then the berm across Cowichan Road,” said Macleod, who has lived next to the property for many years.
McLeod says such changes will “present an added problem for adjacent properties, including a huge area of the Cowichan tribe's land,” an area which is presently used for farming and water absorption from the Koksilah mountains, which significantly helps prevent backup flooding for Indigenous Reserves, housing, a farmers’ market, and more.
Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC) has partnered with the Federal Ministry of Water Land and Resource Stewardship, the Ministry of Forests, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Climate Change Canada, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Cowichan Tribes Environment, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited Canada for the project and says a primary purpose for the estuary restoration is to foster more habitat for “commercially and culturally important seafood,” including Pacific salmon.
“It’s not going to improve the salmon by flooding this,” says McLeod. “In fact, what you have to do, as many First Nations have told us, you need to clean the rivers out to enhance salmon population” stated Mcleod.
Some of the protesters who share McLeod’s concerns about the prime farmland being flooded out, and who gathered in front of the Cowichan Valley Regional District offices (CVRD’s) to raise awareness on Wednesday, also feel the estuary project is yet another example of how the government is making life difficult for farmers in the Cowachin area.
During the rally, a protester named Shannon explained some of the struggles her horse farm, which also serves as a Bed and Breakfast in the Cowichan Valley area, has had to endure since 2019, in the form of seemingly never-ending demands from the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) regarding her well water system.
“I’ve spent $100,000 trying to comply with the government with my water, and so far I’m still complying, but every month they’re throwing something new at me, and it just doesn’t seem to end,” said Shannon while hoisting a Canadian flag while seated on a tractor.
In a statement to Rebel News after the demonstration concluded, Shannon explained how despite her saltwater spring well water “being perfectly fine,” she’s complied with stipulations such as putting in a costly filter system, a new septic system, weekly water tests, and more recently has been told she has to attend a mandatory water operations course.
“My daughter is eleven, and I’ve owned that property for coming 20 years, and I feel like the government is trying to create so many hurdles for us so that it will be difficult to hang on to our land for future generations,” Shannon added.
In addition to wanting to preserve the land she worked hard at running as a single mother, for her daughter’s future, Shannon says she also does not want to be forced to put chlorine in her water like she says the (VIHA) wants her to do.
“I think it’s toxic to the human system as well as fluoride, I don’t want in my system, and there is nothing wrong with our water; we all drink it, the animals drink it too,” says Shannon.
As far as the Cowichan Estuary Restoration Project goes, Shannon’s primary concern is ensuring that there will be enough food for everyone in the Cowichan Valley as well as their livestock without having to order it from elsewhere.
“People move to the Cowichan Valley for the farm-to-table experience; we need to preserve these beautiful farms. There are so many different ways the government wants to push us out of these rural lands, and I’m standing up to those who are affected by this.”
Shannon’s plight for her family's future generations bears some similarities to that of 4th generation Cowichan Valley landowner Kimberly Cooper. Cooper tells Rebel News that her great-grandfather George Bradshaw settled in the Valley in 1906 and began farming near Somenos Lake by 1910.
“Since at least the 1950s, there were numerous multi-level government projects in the Somenos basin controlling the watercourse and drainage from Richards trail all the way to Cowichan bay. The results have been a progressive increase in the water table to all the farmland in the Somenos basin. The flooding displaced all the productive farmland and the families that farmed there,” Cooper stated.
According to Cooper, government projects like ARDSA (Agricultural Rural Development Subsidiary Drainage Agreement) were supposed to improve drainage, but the results were the opposite. The subsequent flooding was an expected outcome of the 1981 project but implemented anyway.”
Cooper says this and subsequent projects which maintained this flooding have resulted in “loss of farmland, natural waterways, flood storage capacity, and spawning habitat.”
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