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Too early to gauge winter drought impact on Comox Valley water system: BC Hydro

COMOX LAKE, B.C- The water source for the Comox Valley is having a record year, in a bad way.

According to a notice from BC Hydro, Comox Lake has seen the lowest levels of water inflows for March in 50 years, resulting in a visibly low water level at the lake’s drainage point into the Puntledge River.

The low levels at this time of year could have a major impact on summer flows along the river, which would affect the Valley’s drinking water system and overall conservation measures taken by the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) which manages that system.

Recreation, such as kayaking and tubing along the Puntledge’s lower end, could also be impacted.

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According to Stephan Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, the “tap turned off” in recent weeks, after earlier precipitation in the fall and early winter. Over the past month, they’ve seen inflows into Comox Lake that mimic what would be seen in late summer, with most of the water caught up in snow and ice.

Power generation at the Puntledge River dam has now been dropped, and they’re running the river system as low as they can without compromising fish habitat flows.

However, Watson thought the time of year being March instead of September was good news.

“We know the rains are coming, we know the snowmelt is coming, so we know the water is coming, it’s just taking it’s time getting here,” said Watson.

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“The good news is the temperatures are turning more seasonable next week, so we’ll get some snowmelt, but we need rain. The next two months, we need some rain to help replenish the water abundance in the system, because as of now, it could be a challenging summer.”

As for the possible impact from the drought on water restrictions from the district, Watson said he thought it was too early to guess.

“We’re going to try and capture as much of that snowmelt as we can, the rainfall, as we get into June, and then after that we’ll see where the reservoir level is,” said Watson.

“The main thing is if we have to start going below the minimum fish habitat flow, that’s when things begin to kick in, in terms of broader water conservation.”

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That decision would be made around June, when there is a better idea of the forecasted inflows into the lake. As it stands, residents of the Valley may be surprised at how low the river gets in the summer.

“I think people in the Comox Valley are getting used to a low Puntledge River flow, come August-September, so let’s keep an eye on it, see where it goes this year,” said Watson.

The CVRD still plans to move to Stage 1 water restrictions on May 1st as planned, with no early implementation.

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