After two river rescues in the last week and ahead of the Canada Day long weekend, the Lake Cowichan RCMP have issued a notice from multiple area officials reminding river and trail users to be safe.
Members of the RCMP, Lake Cowichan Fire Department, BC Emergency Health Services and the Town of Lake Cowichan want for residents and tourists alike to enjoy the outdoors, but with the conditions in mind.
“BC Emergency Health Services recommends being prepared for all outdoor activities. Dress appropriately, have the correct equipment, and let someone know of your plans for hiking and water activities,” said BCEHS acting unit chief Mike Wright.
While the news release did note trail safety, it primarily focused on activities in and around the water.
“The river is currently running at double the speed that tubers are used too. The water temperature is cooler than normal for tubing conditions so be aware of hypothermia,” said Lake Cowichan fire chief, Doug Knott.
Other tips include staying out of the water if you can’t swim and cooling down in the shade instead, wearing a lifejacket — even adults.
“We have many rivers in our area that have been underestimated resulting in tragic outcomes,” said the RCMP’s release. “Do not put your feet in fast moving water that is deeper than the length of your arm. If a foot becomes entrapped by rocky bottom in deep water, the current will eventually push the swimmer over face first into the water.”
The notice also reminded river users that alcohol and water don’t mix. Police will be patrolling, enforcing Criminal Code offences as well as other laws, such as consuming liquor in a public place, which can result in a $230 fine.
“As we go about tubing, boating, and enjoying other water activities let us do those safely,” said Joseph Fernandez, CAO of Town of Lake Cowichan. “Please ensure that our first responders, the RCMP, BC Ambulance and the Fire Departments are not involved in emergencies that they could well avoid if people behave responsibly while out and about. Keep our waterways safe and clean.”
Following two callouts to river rescues in the last week, two of the region’s Search and Rescue teams have also warned the public about the hazards they’ve found on the Cowichan River ahead of the popular river tubing season.
Cowichan and Ladysmith’s SAR combined swift water rescue team was most recently called out to rescue a group which included a two-year-old.
“Yesterday we had to rescue a number of adults and a child after two of the adults went into and under a log hazard downstream of Vimy,” said Jeff Lewis, one of the swift water team leaders, on June 22. “Thankfully nobody required hospitalization but both adults were injured. Their raft is still stuck in the wood hazard.”
The crew leader said that due to November floods, the existing wood hazards have become worse and there are new ones extending all the way across the main current where tubers float, “which will only get tighter as the water level drops.”
Lewis said the swift water team has paddled from Cowichan Lake down to the Allenby Road bridge and have noted there are “extremely dangerous wood hazards on most of the common river sections: Little Beach to Skutz, Stoltz Pool to Sandy Pool, Sandy Pool to Vimy, and Vimy to the Allenby Road Bridge.”
The SAR teams noted the cleanest stretch of the river is from Lake Cowichan to Little Beach.
“We highly recommend tubers stick to that stretch of river,” Lewis said.
He reminded adults “that you are no good to your child if you do not put on your PFD.”