If you hear sirens around the Puntledge River next week, here’s why.

BC Hydro will be manually testing its siren system on Tuesday, making repairs as needed on Wednesday, and then briefly releasing water from the Comox Dam to test the system next Thursday.

During that time, you’re asked to stay out of the river, given the siren testing and flow increases. 

Temporary safety awareness signage will be placed along the river. 

BC Hydro staff will also be along the river to monitor the warning system.

On May 20th at around 10:00 am, the water discharge from Comox Dam will be briefly increased to provide a pulse of water that will move downstream, and eventually cause the various sirens to activate. 

The discharge from the dam may be around 27 cubic metres per second, and at various times on that day the Puntledge River flow will increase to a brief peak of about 50 cubic metres per second.

The sirens and strobe lights are placed along the Puntledge River from the Comox Dam to Puntledge Park and are sounded to warn of quick river flow changes. 

Permanent river safety signage is in place to advise what the siren sound means, and when heard, to move out of the river channel.

“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,” BC Hydro spokesman Stephen Watson said. 

“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 Puntledge River 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,” Watson said. 

“Only 15 centimetres of fast flowing water is enough to knock a person off their feet.”