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BC Hydro reduces river flow on the Campbell River to conserve water

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today, BC Hydro reduced the discharge from the John Hart generating station from about 82 cubic metres per second (m3/s) to about 67 m3/s. BC Hydro is reducing flows as a result of the ongoing dry fall season conditions and dropping reservoir levels. Water inflows into the Upper Campbell Reservoir/Buttle Lake, for the last 50 days at this time of year, are the third lowest on record.

John Hart is now running at about 55 percent of capacity at a time of the year when it is typically running at full capacity. The river flow is about half of BC Hydro’s licensed amount of 124 m3/s when at maximum power generation.

BC Hydro increases power generation and river flows in September for migrating and spawning salmon and to also lower upstream reservoir levels in anticipation of the fall rains – this is done for flood risk management. BC Hydro went as high as about 120 m3/s for ten days as a result of a storm event at the end of September and for a system outage, with the need for more power generation output. BC Hydro reduced the discharge to 82 m3/s on October 24. This slowed the lowering of the reservoirs but BC Hydro must now take additional corrective actions to balance reservoir levels and river flows over the coming months.

The Upper Campbell Reservoir/Buttle Lake is at 216.5 metres and dropping. It is about 1.6 metres below normal for this time of year. BC Hydro has been releasing about 82 m3/s through November but the upstream inflows into the reservoirs have only been about 30 m3/s. The storm system this weekend will make little difference in the situation and the weather is forecasted to turn dry and cool next week.

BC Hydro has been working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and keeping them apprised of the conditions. Since October there have been discussions about the timing of peak spawning activities and flows required to ensure spawning can occur. With the bulk of the 2013 spawning now complete, we are now focusing on conserving water for the incubation period through the winter. BC Hydro’s monitoring of low flow conditions in January and February of this year showed that key salmon spawning areas are watered at 67 m3/s.

The long-term concern is the potential for winter-drought like conditions that have taken place at Vancouver Island hydroelectric systems a number of times since 2009. From mid-December through to spring, like it did in 2013, the cool and dry conditions made it challenging for BC Hydro to meet downstream environmental flows for fish. To have upstream reservoirs this low at this time of year is disconcerting. However, one large storm system could quickly change the water abundance conditions, though there is nothing on the horizon and BC Hydro needs to take action.

BC Hydro will provide further operational updates to the community in the future. The nearby Puntledge River generating station in the Comox Valley is also operating to conserve water, and is running at about 40 percent of capacity.

Stephen Watson
Stakeholder Engagement and Communications
Vancouver Island

BC Hydro
P.O. Box 1500
400 Madsen Road
Nanaimo, BC, V9R 5M3

Office: 250.755.4795
Mobile: 250-616.9888