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Fishing banned in Puntledge-Courtenay River as drought continues

A number of stakeholders are keeping an eye on the dropping levels of water around the Comox Valley, and with little rain and warm weather predicted for at least the next week, concerns are rising.

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), BC Hydro and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are working together to asses conditions of both the Puntledge River and Comox Lake.

"There's definitely a potential for an extreme low level if the dry spell is prolonged," said Marc Rutten, senior manager of engineering services for the CVRD.

Water levels at Comox Lake are dropping around three to four centimeters a day, and it would take a drop at that level for the next 20 days or so to reach an extreme level, he added.

The CVRD, which has implemented Stage Two water restrictions, would shift to Stage Three, essentially prohibiting any excess water usage, including sprinkler use.

Rutten noted as of Oct. 1, the Comox Valley water system typically moves to Stage One water restrictions, however given the steady decline of reservoir levels since the middle of July, water conservation efforts need to be implemented.

Although the CVRD did switch to Stage Three restrictions recently, Rutten explained the restriction happens regularly twice a year when the CVRD switches to their pump station for maintenance, a routine measure which is not related to lake levels.

Stephen Watson, communications spokesman for BC Hydro, said although the low water levels do present challenges particularly for chum fisheries and domestic water use, he believes the area is prepared.

"This is another example of dams easing the potential implications of very dry or very wet weather. BC Hydro tries to absorb those large storm events in the fall/winter for flood risk management and in late summer, hold water back in preparation of very dry conditions," he explained.

BC Hydro will lower the river flow to sustain it until the fall rains arrive, he said.

"(We have) decades of water inflow data and we model potential weather scenarios, so should a very dry scenario play out like we are seeing now, we are prepared by adjusting flows in stages," added Watson.

Should the dry weather continue in a few weeks, BC Hydro may need to drop the river flow down to 8.5 cubic metres per second from 11.3 m3/s, with a release of an additional one m3/s above that level out of consideration for domestic water withdrawal, Watson said.

The last time BC Hydro implemented an extreme conservation flow of 8.5 m3/s was in October 2006, a time where Rutten noted weather conditions were very similar to what the Valley is now experiencing, and the CVRD implemented Stage Three restrictions.

Thursday morning, DFO issued a fishing closure until Oct. 31 for the Courtenay and Puntledge rivers downstream of the BC Hydro diversion dam.

They note salmon conservation measures are required in both rivers due to extremely low water and a poor outlook for any appreciable rain in the future.

BC Hydro recently worked with DFO crews to find any fish salvage in areas where pools of water will become separated from the main river flow with the exposure of the riverbed in some areas.

For more information on water restrictions, or to stay on top of notifications of stage changes, visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/restrictions.

For more information of fishing restrictions, contact the Comox branch of the DFO at 250-339-7271.

photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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