BC Hydro has announced that it intends to remove the Salmon River dam

Hydro planning to remove dam on Salmon River

The almost decade-long discussion over what to do on the Salmon River to help the fish seems to be coming to a resolution

The almost decade-long discussion over what to do on the Salmon River to help the fish seems to be coming to a resolution.

BC Hydro has decided the best solution for everyone – especially the salmon – is the removal of the Salmon River dam altogether.

The previous three-phase project included fish ladder and canal upgrades to improve the facility – which was built in the 1950s – along with addressing debris management and flow control.

That plan – initially set to begin this fall and be completed by 2018 – was the result of a 2012 commitment by BC Hydro to fish passage improvements at the Salmon River Diversion facility between Campbell River and Sayward. The project was “put on hold” earlier this year, however, just weeks before it was set to begin, with Hydro citing costs being “too high for us to proceed.”

A review was ordered to see what the best plan of attack would be going forward – whether that be the decommissioning of the dam or a downscaling of the project.

That decision has now been announced.

“The removal of that dam is going to be tremendous for fish on the Salmon River system,” says Campbell River Salmon Foundation chair Martin Buchanan.

BC Hydro Spokesperson Stephen Watson agrees.

“We started on an improved fish passage process with the community in 2007 and decided over time to improve upstream and downstream fish passage at the timber crib dam,” Watson says. “We were ready to do the upstream works but wanted to get a full perspective of the upstream and downstream fish passage issues and costs, as well as dam and canal upgrades given the facility was built in 1958, so that we had a full picture of the capital reinvestment costs. Once we had that we compared it to the benefits of the diverted water for power generation and water use interests on the Campbell River system. The target was for that staged upgrade work to happen this fall but we found the total upgrade costs to be too high, and decided the best solution was to actually remove the dam.”

Watson says Hydro has worked together with First Nations, government fish agencies and stakeholder groups like the Sayward Fish and Game Club and the Campbell River Salmon Foundation and have spent “a lot of time over the last nine years to find good fish passage solutions.”

Hydro went over the new plans with various stakeholders last week.

“There’s been some shifts as we explored the options of what could be done to the facility, and it looks as though, on the 10th anniversary of these discussions, the actual dam may be removed for unhindered fish passage,” Watson says. “That’s the home run for some people in the community and we think it’s actually the best solution in the end for BC Hydro and our ratepayers.”

Hydro says it is working hard to prepare an application to the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC), which regulates BC Hydro, to obtain approval to remove the dam. The dam cannot be removed without BCUC approval. The application is planned to be filed in February, 2017 so the approval can be received in time for the work next summer.

The plan is to remove the dam next summer, and decommission the canal and other facility elements sometime in the future. No water will be diverted once the dam is removed.

“We are all really focused on that BCUC process and various groups will be providing letters of support to BC Hydro so they can gain approval to remove the dam – we need that dam removed next summer to benefit fish,” Buchanan says. “It will really open up 40 km of fish habitat, as well as side tributaries, for steelhead and coho, as well as chinook. We appreciate BC Hydro making the ultimate decision to remove the dam and the resources they have put into getting the BCUC submission in to make 2017 dam removal possible. It’s the right thing to do.

“In the end all that volunteer time and effort has paid off.”

–With files by Kristen Douglas