The rapid waters next to the Cowichan Lake weir have been a known danger for years.
“I almost drowned there, so I know what the currents can do,” mayor Ross Forrest told the Gazette last month.
During his brush with death, about 30 years ago, Forrest had friends nearby to help him out of the water.
June 15 of this year, local 26-year-old Cowichan Motors’ mechanic Tyler Neal wasn’t so lucky.
Operating a remote control toy boat alone in the water around the weir, Neal is believed to have gone into the water after it, getting overcome by the currents and drowning. It’s been classified as an accidental drowning death.
Following the death, Neal’s mourning family petitioned Catalyst, which operates the weir, and the Town of Lake Cowichan to do something to prevent another such tragedy from happening to anyone else.
In response, Catalyst initiated a safety review, and has recently installed a barbed wire chain-link fence barricading people from entering the dangerous spot of the Cowichan River, next to the weir.
A strip through the brush between the weir and the weir operator has also been cut, to increase visibility of the location.
Neal’s sister, Melanie, and mother, Lennie, appeared as a delegation during a Town of Lake Cowichan’s Tuesday, September 13, committee meeting, in order to both thank mayor and council, and to encourage public education around the dangers of the Cowichan River.
“That’s a big thing, the fence,” Melanie said, during the pair’s meeting.
A few weeks before the fence was in, Melanie said that she was horrified to have seen that people were still jumping in the Cowichan River at the same location her brother had drowned.
Now, even with the fence in place, a number of people have been spotted going around it in order to swim and launch their tubes from the weir.
“The only one question we have for the Town of Lake Cowichan is with regard to a deterrent for people wanting to go around that,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s enough information out there that this river’s dangerous.”
“I’m really grateful for what has been done out there,” Lennie said.
The fence’s installation is something of a catch-22, as it prevents emergency access to the Cowichan River, with it currently being the location Lake Cowichan RCMP launch their river boat from.
Those that continue to swim by the weir, by climbing or going around the fence, are also at in increased danger, as they’re less accessible, with the fence in potential rescuers’ way.
Mayor Ross Forrest said that he’d met with Catalyst about two weeks previous to discuss these issues.
“They wanted to talk to us about another access point, and there are some access issues out there,” he said.