Six months ago my journey with this article series started at an intense and emotional time.
The summer of 2019 brought the worst of eleven droughts that have occurred since 1998. The Quw’utsun River went on “life support”, with pumps bringing water from Cowichan Lake to the River to keep it flowing – until the rains came.
Climate projections for the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) predict such impacts when describing that we will experience hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters.
The Rivers continue to guide my journey – pumping to maintain flow is now contrasted with the overflowing of banks due to a “river in the sky” that came down on January 31 st , 2020. An atmospheric river – a long, narrow region of concentrated moisture - hit Vancouver Island and levels in the Quw’utsun, Koksilah and Chemainus Rivers rose quickly. Members from First Nations and North Cowichan communities were evacuated, with some residents being transported by BC Transit bus. Key transportation corridors were cut off for hours, including the Trans-Canada Highway south of the Chemainus River Bridge. The CVRD declared a local state of emergency that lasted for two weeks.
Warmer, wetter winters can affect our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health:
- High-rising rivers prompting evacuation can incite emotions including fear, particularly for children.
- Fast and high river flows can take people by surprise, causing physical injuries or even death.
- Heavy rainfall can increase potential risk to our surface water supplies, due to increased turbidity. For example, one Cowichan Valley community had a Boil Water Notice following the storm.
- Flooding has also been shown to effect mental health – resulting in conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
When land, water, plants and animals are impacted by extreme rainfall our spiritual connections to them can also be affected.
Rain which brings flooding takes place in many ancestral stories. Within my home territory, a great flood was foreseen that people prepared for. A long rope was made out of cedar to attach to a water craft with shelter and provisions. The rope was tied to a large rock - atop a sacred mountain - and then the rains came. Weeks turned into months of rain and the water craft began to float, eventually pulling the rope taut. In some versions of the story the waters receded thanks to the smuyuqua’ - ladybug – drinking the waters from the face of the earth. When mocked for stating she could help in a great flood smuyuqua’ replied “I am a very small person, but you should not underestimate me”. When land again became visible it was apparent that life would be rebuilt in a world vigorously transformed.
The day after the flood my 8-year-old daughter and I walked along the dike in town to witness the impact of the “river in the sky”. This was the first flooding of the Quw’utsun River in my daughter’s lifetime and it will not be the last. We witnessed how preparations that had been undertaken, the raising and reinforcement of the dike which took place after the 2009 flood, lessened the impact. I pointed to the sacred mountain and shared with her how our ancestors had anchored themselves during the great flood. As I watched her take it all in I remembered the teaching to not underestimate a small person.
We live in a time of transformation. Leadership must be transformed in just 10 months to enact the “decisive, political steps” needed for a 45% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2030. This journey is part of me giving back to the territory that has sustained my ancestors for generations upon generations.
I remember their, and our, resilience as we walk towards the deep transformation yet to come.
Shannon Waters is a Public Health + Preventive Medicine Physician, Connector and Hope Builder. In her current leadership role as Medical Health Officer for the Cowichan Valley Region at Island Health Shannon works to bring a voice to not only the health of her community but to Mother Earth.
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