A project that will eventually stop the release of treated effluent into the Cowichan River is moving forward, and the next step is to determine a route for the pipeline that will carry effluent out to Cowichan Bay.

The Joint Utilities Board outfall relocation project will see the discharge of effluent moved to a deepwater location.

Last week, the members of North Cowichan council were updated on the progress of studies and consultations to find the best location for the outfall and the route for the pipeline.

Mayor Al Siebring says relocating the effluent discharge is part of an agreement made nearly a decade ago when the lease was renewed for the land where the sewage treatment facility is located.

That facility is operated by North Cowichan.

At that time, Siebring says Cowichan Tribes asked them “to make every reasonable effort” to stop discharging treated effluent into the river.

From 2018 to 2020, a Stage Two Environmental study was done and consultations were held with First Nations, stakeholders, and environmental groups, and the next step is to begin deciding on the route for the pipeline.

There will be additional studies on the proposed routes, along with further community engagement, and First Nations consultations before the final decision.

The next round of engagement will begin in November.

Siebring says there are several proposed routes under consideration for the pipeline

There are several reasons for ending the discharge of effluent into the river.

During periods of low water flows there is not enough water to provide the proper dilution of the effluent.

The problem of low water flows in the Cowichan River is expected to become more frequent in the future.

There is also the risk of the current outfall being damaged by log jams and gravel accumulation.

Ending the discharge of effluent into the river is an important step in the reopening of shellfish harvesting in Cowichan Bay.