Water levels continue to drop in the Campbell River system as historic dry conditions may force BC Hydro to reduce river flows in January.
“Should the prolonged dry weather continue…BC Hydro will follow the water use plan guidelines of its water license and may reduce the downstream Campbell River flow below the current conservation flow. This would have some impacts to salmon habitat,” said BC Hydro spokesman Stephen Watson in a Thursday news release. Weather conditions have not changed over the past month and therefore the low water inflow conditions continue for the entire Campbell River system.
Since Oct. 7, water inflows into the upstream reservoirs are now the second lowest in 50 years of record. Inflows continue to be about 30 cubic metres per second (m3/s) and discharges below the John Hart generating station are more than double at about 67 m3/s to keep incubating salmon eggs covered with water.
The last 30 days have seen water inflows into the reservoirs being at 32 percent of normal. River flows this time of year are normally between 80 m3/s and 124 m3/s, but BC Hydro continues to operate John Hart at 50 percent of capacity to conserve water.
Upper Campbell Reservoir/Buttle Lake is the main water storage reservoir and is currently at about 215.9 metres, or about 2.3 metres below normal for this time of year.
The reservoir can go down to 212 metres though BC Hydro would take further downstream river flow reductions should the reservoir level continue to drop. At about 213-214 metres, Upper Campbell Reservoir and Buttle Lake begin to separate with available water storage significantly reduced.
Lower Campbell Reservoir/McIvor Lake is currently at 175.15 metres, or about 2.6 metres below normal for this time of year. This is the lowest reservoir level on record for the month of December, and is the third lowest on record for any time of the year over the past 50 years.
The reservoir could go as low as 174 metres, though BC Hydro intends to operate down to 174.9 metres in the near future.
Cabin owners have expressed concern for their docks and water lines. Owners may want to take preventative measures now and be prepared should the reservoir be required to go down to 174 metres. This reservoir has very little water storage room left.
BC Hydro is currently diverting only about 1.75 m3/s from the Quinsam River Diversion into the Lower Campbell Reservoir, and that is based on water conditions at Wokas Lake – the diversion of this water may not be able to continue.
Given the very low water abundance situation, BC Hydro, as an emergency measure, may begin to divert water as early as next week from the Salmon River Diversion that has been out of service since June 2010.
There is a current capital project in place to look at upstream and downstream fish passage at the diversion dam, and modest dam safety upgrades, particularly to the concrete canal.
Given every drop of water may count, BC Hydro is looking to divert about two m3/s to start with and will monitor if it’s safe to divert more water through the canal. This diversion will be based on available water in the Salmon River. Both the Salmon River and the Quinsam River have minimum downstream flow requirements.
John Hart Reservoir is operated tightly and typically does not fluctuate given the near-surface level of the John Hart dam water intake gates and the three pipelines. BC Hydro has been continuing its weekly conference calls with government fish agencies. The forecasted weather forecast to the end of the year looks relatively cool and dry. There is no significant storm system forecasted. BC Hydro will provide its next update around mid-January or sooner should conditions and operational changes warrant it.