High river currents persist as Hydro manages reservoirs

A challenging year for BC Hydro, trying to manage reservoir levels in the Campbell River area, is improving.

A challenging year for BC Hydro, trying to manage reservoir levels in the Campbell River area, is improving.

But river currents will be higher than usual this summer.

Hydro has struggled to operate with delayed snow melt and filling of the system reservoirs but Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydo, says reservoir recreation levels are approaching ideal targets.

“From our June 1 update, BC Hydro’s operational decisions are tracking as forecasted,” Watson said.

“The slow melting of the near-record mountain snow pack has been occurring.”

But even with the recent warm temperatures, the snow pack may still last well into August before being depleted, he added.

The current snow pack level measured at the Wolf River Upper snow pillow station recently moved below the average annual amount this region normally receives.

And to make matters worse, Watson said there’s still a lot of water yet to come down.

“The average peak snow to water equivalent, reached in early May, is about 1,450 millimetres,” Watson said.

“It is about 1,200 mm as of today. Given the delayed snow melt from the cool weather and the time of year, the snow pack is currently about 480 per cent of normal.”

Typically, the snow pack is almost gone by this time of year.

With the delayed snow melt, the Upper Campbell/Buttle Lake reservoir is now at 218.6 metres high, and has moved within levels that are good for summer lake recreation.

Ideal recreation levels are around 219.5 m, and BC Hydro forecasts the reservoir will hit that level somewhere between late July and late September.

BC Hydro is also forecasting the reservoir to hit a summer high of just over 220 m by the end of August.

There are potential shoreline erosion concerns at elevations above 220 m, Watson says.

To prepare for the pink salmon fishing season, BC Hydro has been discharging higher than normal river flows through the spring and early summer in order to balance reservoir and river water use interests.

“Downstream and below the John Hart Generating Station, river recreation will be increasing to a peak in August with the return of adult pink salmon,” Watson said.

“River access for fishing is a concern at flows of 80 cubic metres per second and above.”

This is also BC Hydro’s annual maintenance period with two of the six units being out of service.

Eventually all six units will rotate out of service during the maintenance cycle.

The operating plan is for Campbell River flows to decrease, starting in mid-July from the current flow of 85 m3/s, down to 50 m3/s by August 1.

BC Hydro may hold at that level through mid-September, but if water inflows are higher, there is a possibility river flows may be slightly increased in mid-August, according to Watson.

River flows in August are normally targeted at around 32 m3/s.

Earlier this year BC Hydro received a water license variance, with government agency support, from the Comptroller of Water Rights through September 15.

BC Hydro received the variance to help draw the reservoir down in anticipation of the high snow melt runoff.

BC Hydro has been running the John Hart Generating Station at full capacity to achieve that goal.

On May 10, Hydro decreased the power generation to about 80 per cent in consideration of the low reservoir levels and the delayed snow melt.

With river flow currents higher than normal this summer, BC Hydro advises the public to be cautious and safe around the Campbell River.