Public safety is very important to BC Hydro, and it’s one of the primary reasons why it communicates regularly on its Puntledge River operations.
A critical public awareness component about potential hazards along the Puntledge hydroelectric system is through a public warning system. Sirens and strobe lights are placed along the river from the Comox Dam to Puntledge Park, and will engage to warn of quick river flow changes. Permanent safety signage is in place to advise what the siren sound means, and when heard, to move out of the river channel. To test and ensure the system is working, BC Hydro will be testing the sirens along the Puntledge from May 18-20.
“We will be manually testing each siren on May 18, making any repairs as needed on May 19, and then briefly releasing extra water from Comox Dam to test the siren system test on May 20,” a news release states.
For May 18 and 20, BC Hydro advises the public to stay out of the river, given the siren testing and flow increases. Temporary safety awareness signage will placed along the river. BC Hydro staff will also be along the river to monitor the warning system.
On May 20, at around 10 a.m., water discharge from the dam will be briefly increased to provide a pulse of water that will move downstream and eventually cause the various sirens to activate. Discharge may be around 27 cubic metres per second (m3/s), and at various times on that day the Puntledge flow will increase to a brief peak of about 50 m3/s.
“We know people enjoy the Puntledge River yet this test is also a reminder that this is a hydroelectric system where river flows may change quickly, whether planned or unplanned. With the warmer weather, people will begin to gravitate to water to cool off and enjoy the summer. About 500 people have been counted throughout the Puntledge River system at one time. As well, up to 2,000 tubers may enter the river during a hot summer day.”
The hydroelectric system includes the Comox Dam, which impounds the Comox Lake Reservoir, where the water released travels 3.7 kilometres down to the Puntledge River Diversion Dam. From there, a minimum fish habitat flow is provided down the river and the majority of water is directed down a five-kilometre penstock to the generating station, where the water is then discharged back into the river. River flow hydraulics and under-surface currents can be dangerous. Only 15 centimetres of fast flowing water is enough to knock a person off their feet.