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Cowichan BC Farmers are fighting back against Estuary Project plans to flood out fertile farmland


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, as 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” in the estuary and surrounding areas near Duncan. Concerns over the project’s invasive measures, 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 tribes’ land,” an area that is presently used for farming and water absorption from the Koksilah mountains, which significantly helps prevent backup flooding for the 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.”

Some of the protesters who share McLeod’s concerns about the prime farmland being flooded out, who chose to gather 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 & 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, hoisting a Canadian flag while seated on a tractor.

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