BC Hydro is advising anglers to be cautious around the Campbell River over the next month and a half.
The power utility is advising anglers to be cautious in the Campbell River, below the John Hart generating station, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15. Temporary safety signage has been posted along the river banks that os in effect until Feb. 15.
There is a six week period where BC Hydro can, within its water use plan, adjust operations at the John Hart facility to respond to electric system demands and planned outages within the grid system, and to make the most economic use through market conditions of water stored in our reservoirs. BC Hydro has the flexibility now because it’s tied to the fish life-cycle.
Alevin and salmon eggs are in the gravel and there are no adult salmon; they’ve finished the spawning cycle. Fish habitat is fully covered with water at about 80 m3/s (cubic metres per second) and BC Hydro will not operate below that level at this time of the year unless extremely drier conditions are occurring. Flows may adjust from about 80 cubic metres per second (m3/s) up to 124 m3/s for hours at a time before going back down to 80 m3/s.
“We ask that steelhead fishers in or around the river to be aware of this operational flexibility and to be cautious during this six-week period,” said BC hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson. “Steelhead are entering the system but have not yet spawned. We will try to ramp up the flows in the early morning before daylight, but the timing of flow changes ultimately depends on electric system conditions and how much water is available in the Campbell River system reservoirs.”
Despite the current heavy rains, conditions in the watershed are drier than normal so there is less likelihood of utilizing this flexibility unless there are short term power grid situations that need increased power output from John Hart.
“The winter weather means electricity demand is high. BC Hydro is fortunate with its many hydroelectric facilities across the province to be able to conserve water at night and then increase power generation during the day to look after our domestic load needs and take advantage of the favourable market conditions,” Watson said. “It helps keep our rates lower. The ability to be able to “load factor” came from the community water use planning process completed years ago.”
The past fall was drier than normal, Watson reports. For precipitation rates, October’s cumulative precipitation in the upper watershed was 78 per cent of normal, November was 49 per cent of normal, and after a drier start, December finished off at 96 per cent of normal. Combined, these three months were the fifth driest in 39 years of record, at about 70 per cent of normal precipitation. For our Puntledge River and Ash River hydroelectric watersheds, from October through December, precipitation was the second driest on record
Precipitation in the second half of December increased the snow pack in the upper watershed, but there has been some melting and it remains well below normal for this time of year. The snow pack doesn’t typically peak until the beginning of April.
After coming through the summer at lower than normal water levels, drier than normal weather conditions have prevented the upstream Campbell River reservoirs to fill within its preferred zone. As part of its operations, BC Hydro is balancing downstream fish habitat in the lower Campbell River by keeping the riverbed fully covered with water at about 80 m3/s. While the fisheries target in the fall for spawning is about 100 m3/s to 125 m3/s, flows have been held generally around 80 m3/s through the fall. With the recent rains, river flow rates may increase.
The Campbell River water use plan has preferred zones, corrective zones, and special corrective zones for the reservoirs and the Campbell River. During wet and dry weather conditions, the reservoirs and river all share the weather condition equally, and due to the dry conditions since the spring, the system has been close or within the lower corrective zones through the summer and fall. The Upper Campbell Reservoir/Buttle Lake is currently at 217.4 metres and may reach 218.5 metres next week from the successive storm events. It fluctuates between 212 metres and about 220.5 metres, but hasn’t been above 217 metres since mid-February 2019.
The Lower Campbell Reservoir/McIvor Lake was around 175.2 metres but has since risen to 176.1 metres and may reach around 176.5 metres. It fluctuates between 174 metres and about 178.3 metres.
People who live or do various recreation activities in the upper reservoirs have noticed the lower water levels for this time of year but the recent storm events have improved the situation nicely, Watson said.
In general, November, December and January are the wettest months of the year. Weather conditions can change quickly and so could the changing conditions in the reservoirs and Campbell River.