BC Hydro tests new public warning system for the Puntledge

People along the Puntledge River have heard various iterations over the years of BC Hydro notifying the public around the river of higher flow rate changes, whether they are caused by planned flood risk management operations or through unplanned flow events. Changing water flows create dangers to those beside or in the river as the water levels rise. A warning system that started decades ago is about to get replaced with a modern version and a new sound. People will be able to hear the new system firsthand when BC Hydro tests the various sirens Aug. 29 and 30.

“We are completing an important safety project that has upgraded our water gauges and the entire public warning system along the Puntledge River system, from Comox Dam to Puntledge Park,” says BC Hydro spokesperson, Stephen Watson. “Our new system follows the Canadian Dam Association Guidelines for public safety notification. The Puntledge River hydroelectric system is our highest risk of the 23 hydroelectric systems we operate across the province for potential public safety incidents from flow changes. That’s because of the system configuration and that there can be about 500 people on the river at any one time in the summer. We have taken this safety upgrade very seriously.”

BC Hydro has made numerous changes to the system, including a siren sound that will change to a slow whooping sound that’s becoming the standard sound for all hydroelectric utilities across Canada. The sirens from the Comox Dam to Puntledge Park have all been modified, including new locations, to be better heard in the river where the risk resides and at the same time, and as much as practicable, lessen the nuisance they may create to nearby residents along the river.

“We have also added strobe lights, angled down or up the river corridor, to initiate during the night,” says Watson.

The time of siren activation has been modified with the four seasons so the sirens operate during daylight hours. From Dec. 1 to April 30 the sirens will be operating from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., then March 1 to May 14 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., then May 15 to Sept. 30 from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Watson says BC Hydro is advising of the siren system test so people are aware of what’s happening. People are advised, given the siren sounds, to stay away from the river on Aug. 29 from Comox Dam to Nymph Falls, and on Aug. 30 from Stotan Falls to Puntledge Park when the siren system test takes place. Hydro will manually test each siren and make adjustments to the sound volume to ensure appropriate levels along the river. Testing will begin at the dam, and then move down to each siren, ending at Puntledge Park.

BC Hydro will test the new system and sirens with a planned and brief river simulated flow test on one morning in September. The date in September will be communicated to the community in the near future. The simulated test will not result in any change in river flows but it will allow for the system to engage in a predetermined sequence. This test will verify the system operates in the correct sequence and sirens remain active for the correct duration. An actual river flow test will be carried out later in the year when there is more water in the system.

“Public safety in the upper Puntledge River is paramount and that is being enhanced,” says Watson. “We are trying hard to ensure the public safety element of providing people in the river, that may be at risk, of proper warning. At the same time we have tried to minimize the sound to nearby residents as much as technically possible.”

FMI: contact Watson at 1-250-755-4795 or steve.watson@bchydro.com.

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