An aerial shot of the Puntledge Diversion Dam on a sunny day.

Photo Credit: Stephen Watson | Twitter

Puntledge Gets Low

Dry conditions mean low flows out of the Comox Lake Reservoir

Salmon are struggling to migrate, but rains aren’t coming

Remember the spring? How wet and cool it was? Back in the glory days of early 2022, reservoirs on VanIsle were in good shape.

Fast forward to October and the story is different. The past few months have been dry. Like, extremely dry. Las Vegas has gotten more rain than parts of BC in the last three months.

That means reservoirs like Comox Lake are running on empty. So BC Hydro has to pull back on how much water they release from the Comox Dam.

Stephen Watson is the communications lead for BC Hydro on VanIsle. He told CBC that BC Hydro is reducing water flows into the Puntledge River. There isn’t enough water in the lake to keep normal flows.

“This time of year we’re typically at 30–40 cubic metres per second,” he told CBC. That’s like two or three dump truck’s worth of water passing through the dam every second.

“Typically we have a minimum fish habitat flow of 16 cubic metres per second,” he said. So that’s one dump truck per second, and the lowest amount of water in the river to protect fish.

But now they’re down to 8 cubic metres per second, or half a dump truck of water per second.

That’s some depressing math. It means there’s only half the lowest amount of water needed to protect fish in the Puntledge.

Is this normal? Not according to Watson. He says the last time he saw the water this low in October was in 2006.

“In the last six years, we’ve gone below the minimum fish habitat in the summer, so we’re seeing drier summers, so that’s been a challenge for us,” he said.

Low flows in the fall are even tougher.

“But right now, there’s a lot of fish in the system that want to migrate and spawn.” Without enough water, and with high temperatures, it spells bad news for salmon in the Puntledge.

“It’s been very dry going into October now, one of the driest periods we’ve seen in our historical records,” he told CHEK News.

According to the Weather Network, there’s no relief in sight. Without rain soon, things could start to look like our suffering neighbours in Heiltsuk Territory.

Is it time to start praying to the rain gods? We think so.