WATCH: Cowichan River drought could hurt local economy

A prolonged dry spell is taking its toll on the Cowichan River on Vancouver Island.

Water levels are so low, they caused a spike in bacteria, effectively prompting an advisory not to swim in the river.

Officials have been scaling back the flow to counter to drought conditions on Vancouver Island, dropping it from the target of seven cubic meters per second to 4.5.

There was hope last week’s rainfall would help reverse the situation, but it wasn’t enough.

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Instead, flushing contaminated run-off, elevating bacteria levels and forcing a closure.

The affected area starts in Duncan at the Allenby Bridge, extending to the mouth of the river.

Exposure can lead to gastrointestinal disorders, including abdominal pain and vomiting.

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As the water slows to a trickle, there is a real fear the area’s largest employer could be forced to shut down.

The Crofton division of Catalyst Paper is the region’s largest employer.

Six hundred people work there, generating more than one billion dollars a year for the provincial economy.

The company needs water to sustain operations.

Conservation efforts are at a peak, but if the water supply continues to dwindle, a shutdown will be the only option.

With files from Kylie Stanton 

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