Boaters, salmon may start to feel impact of drought

The Quinsam-Campbell river system has dropped to exceptionally low levels


Water levels in the Quinsam-Campbell river system are dropping to the point where boat access to the reservoirs will be difficult and conserving enough water to accommodate pink salmon runs will be challenging, according to BC Hydro.

In the month since BC Hydro’s June 22 update on water inflows into the Campbell River, the river has dropped to exceptionally low levels, below the power utility’s record low projections.

The monthly average of water inflows into the Campbell River system from various upper watershed streams was 55 m3/s for April, 44 m3/s for May, 22 m3/s for June, and 11 m3/s to date for July, according to BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson. April is below average and the rest of those months are all record low inflow averages. The historical water inflow average is 66 m3/s for April, 105 m3/s for May, 110 m3/s for June, and 80 m3/s to date for July. The current water inflow rate is about eight m3/s. The previous record low water inflow rate for this time of year was 20 m3/s. BC Hydro is discharging about 28 m3/s or basically three and a half times the actual upstream inflows into the Campbell River for fish habitat below the John Hart generating station.

The Upper Campbell Reservoir/Buttle Lake is currently at 215.7 metres, approximately three metres below normal for this time of year. BC Hydro now forecasts the reservoir reaching around 214 metres in September if the warm, dry conditions continue. That’s about one metre lower than forecasted just a month ago.

The Lower Campbell Reservoir/McIvor Lake is currently at 175.85 meters, which is a little more than a metre below normal for this time of year. It may dip to 175 metres by the time the summer is over. Both reservoir levels are far below previous records for this time of year.

The John Hart reservoir is small and is generally operated at the same level.

“What this all means is boat access in the upper reservoirs will be limited and in some areas not possible,” Watson says. “It also means boating hazards in some areas of the reservoirs where wood debris and rock are close to the surface.”

For the Campbell River, the 28 m3/s will be maintained for fish habitat through the summer.

For the Quinsam River, which flows into the Campbell River, BC Hydro, in close coordination with government fish agencies, has a minimum flow rate below the Wokas dam of 0.3 m3/s. The hope was that when the adult pink salmon arrive to spawn in late August, the flow rate would be increased to 0.7 m3/s to help them move up the river system. Even though the major river flow reduction was put in place early in the season to conserve water for the pink salmon, the ability in a month’s time to increase flows is looking challenging.

BC Hydro has added three Campbell River flow gauges to its website for fishers to emergency responders to follow year-round.

“These gauges are near real-time and show river flow rates and river level heights,” Watson says. “Whether you are interested in accessing the river for fishing, or following the flow rates and heights of the river during flood risk management operations, this information will be helpful for people.”

There is a river gauge on the Campbell River just upstream of the Quinsam River confluence, a gauge that shows the combined Campbell River and Quinsam River flows, and the river height near the Campbell River Lodge.


Electricity supply for BC Hydro customers

BC Hydro has only been running the four hydroelectric systems on Vancouver Island at about 10-15 per cent of capacity. BC Hydro has been closely monitoring and anticipating a dry spring and summer, although the extent of these current drought conditions is remarkable. BC Hydro’s proactive flow adjustments on Vancouver Island are to ensure sustainable water flows for fish, local energy reliability requirements, and domestic water supplies in the event this drought last into the early fall.

BC Hydro has the benefit of an integrated hydroelectric system of reservoirs, dams and generating stations in different climactic zones across the Peace, Columbia and South Coast regions. This allows BC Hydro to manage its operations with various degrees of flexibility during unusually dry or wet conditions. Currently, BC Hydro is forecasting to have more than enough energy to meet provincial demand during this fiscal year. It just means more electricity is being supplied to Vancouver Island through our undersea cables that connect to the provincial power grid.

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