I would like to respond to Neil Cameron’s Dec. 21 online opinion piece on gravel placement and gravel movement in the Campbell River (BC Hydro should be required to replace gravel in the Campbell River).
I’ve known Neil for many years and know firsthand how passionate he, as well as the Campbell River Salmon Foundation and others, is about fish. BC Hydro is as well.
We agree that the dams have impacted fish habitat since originally constructed in the 1940s. The opinion piece suggests that BC Hydro has done little for fish since the 1990s, though we have made good strides to try to make things better for fish since then.
Since 2000, BC Hydro has invested over $2.1 million in fish studies and habitat enhancement projects in the Campbell River watershed through our Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP). From funding about 21 gravel placement projects, to various spawning side channels, to perhaps of the best watershed restoration project to date, the 2005 Quinsam Cascades fish ladder that allowed Pink Salmon to access about 14 kilometres of upstream fish habitat.
Through our community-based water use planning process from 1999 to 2004, which looked at how we manage water levels in the three upstream reservoirs and flows in the Campbell River, we made flow changes that included the introduction of fish migration and spawning flows down Elk Falls Canyon. The Campbell River Water Use Plan was a consensus agreement. We also have several multi-year fisheries studies within the watershed to strengthen our understanding of these changes that were intended to benefit fish productivity.
We’ve also made improvements for fish through our capital projects program. One of three project drivers for the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project is to protect downstream fish habitat from unplanned and sudden river flow reductions that could strand fish or expose fish eggs in the gravel. The new water bypass facility designed within the powerhouse is to do just that. In 2012, we removed the Heber River Diversion Dam, and this year, we successfully removed the Salmon River Diversion Dam to provide unhindered fish passage and access to some 40 kilometres of ideal upstream fish habitat.
Our staff are proud of what we have achieved through community engagement, collaboration and support, in the support of salmon.
The main issue is storm events have grown recently where we are setting new water inflow records into the Campbell River system reservoirs. In fall 2016, we had an approximate 1-100-year storm event over a two week period. In December 2014, we also dealt with very high water inflows. In both cases the reservoirs filled and water was released downstream in a prescribed way as outlined in our water licence. Water inflows hit as high as about 1900 m3/s, yet we were able to hold back a large amount of that flow and a peak of 600 m3/s was released downstream for flood risk management. How often will we continue to see these higher intensity storms and river flows, and how will that affect gravel placement pads that are designed to stay in place up to about 350 m3/s?
What is ultimately brought up is a discussion, which we are all for having, about when, where, how and who places gravel in the Campbell River. This involves First Nations, government fish agencies and stakeholders. We’ve been indirectly facilitating that through our community liaison committee that meets three times a year, but mainly through FWCP, where in early 2017 we had a strategy session which included gravel placement and a broader gravel strategy including monitoring. Those discussions continue.