BC Hydro’s contractor continues to work through the installation of the new public warning system as part of the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project.
There was a technical issue that has now been resolved following the siren tests on Aug. 28. The next full siren system test, to take place intermittently over the day, is set to take place on Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
BC Hydro has sirens in place from the John Hart Dam down to Second Island, which is a kilometre or so downstream of the new John Hart underground powerhouse tunnel outlet.
BC Hydro says there’s occasionally questions in the community when the sirens go off on the difference between warning people about river flow changes versus the safety of the upstream dams.
“The sirens are only intended to provide facility operational warnings of sudden water flow changes or unplanned water flow changes from the dam’s spillway gates or low level outlets, or from the powerhouse tunnel outlet,” said BC Hydro spokesperson, Stephen Watson. “This warning is for people who are within the river channel either swimming, fishing, rafting, kayaking, or walking or standing near the water flow. The sirens, which have a whooping sound, advise people to move out of the river channel immediately until the increased water flow passes by.”
BC Hydro says once the new siren system is approved and in place, they will occasionally test the system to continue to ensure it is working as intended. BC Hydro will notify the community when the new sirens are officially commissioned.
“We appreciate people’s patience as we work through the testing period,” says Watson. “It’s very important that they all work as designed. While we try to notify people of the planned tests, we also need to be clear that there is a rare chance of an unplanned water flow event from the John Hart facility during a test. When the sirens are heard during a planned test, people should move out of the river channel. On Sept. 17, it may be best to stay away from the Campbell River and do other activities.”
As for the three upstream hydroelectric dams, Watson says day-to-day. the dams are safe and BC Hydro has an extensive Dam Safety Program, including ongoing monitoring. He added it is only a severe earthquake that could put the upstream dams at risk, and that’s why BC Hydro, the City of Campbell River, and Strathcona Regional District developed a ‘If it knocks you down, go to high ground’ message. The severe ground shaking is the only warning people may receive, as the sirens are not an earthquake or dam awareness warning system.
BC Hydro has a series of proposed seismic upgrade projects at all three dams that may all begin as early as 2023/2024. This includes the John Hart Dam Seismic Upgrade Project so that it can withstand a severe earthquake.