Dry fall isn’t good news for the watershed

BC Hydro reduces outflows to the Campbell River to conserve water upstream

Water levels are dropping at alarming rate on the Campbell River watershed resulting in reduced power generation and river outflows.

On Tuesday, BC Hydro reduced discharge from the John Hart Generating Station into the Campbell River from 82 cubic metres per second (m3/s) to 67 m3/s. The purpose is to manage lake levels, not only for power generation through the winter, but for fish and other aquatic species.

“With the bulk of spawning now complete, we are now focusing on conserving water for the (salmon) incubation period through the winter,” said Hydro spokesman Stephen Watson in a news release.

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, added Watson, 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,” he said. “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.”

Environment Canada is calling for rain this weekend, but dry, sunny conditions are expected following that for the next two weeks.

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

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.

Hydro has been releasing about 82 m3/s through November, but the upstream inflows into the reservoirs have only been about 30 m3/s.

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 per cent of capacity.