BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson on the new stairs at the Canyon View Trail loop that lead up from the site of the old John Hart Generating Station on the Campbell River. BC Hydro photo

BC Hydro: the last two decades and the decade ahead

When we start a new decade it is often a period of reflection.

I’ve also now worked with the Campbell River community for two decades on many different BC Hydro issues, projects and weather events. There have been many improvements as BC Hydro and the community worked through a myriad challenging and complicated issues, and often achieved mutual wins. We’ve achieved a great deal by working collaboratively together – First Nations, agencies, stakeholders and the general public. So what have we achieved over the past 20 years and what’s ahead? The following are the highlights.

The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, formerly known as BC Hydro’s Bridge Coastal Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, has provided millions of dollars to various community groups to place gravel in the river for salmon habitat, fish habitat side channels, to wildlife habitat enhancement and land acquisitions. This program is to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by the physical footprints of our hydroelectric facilities, such as our dams. Many excellent community-driven projects have been funded through this program.

A consultative and consensus water use plan agreement, with about two-dozen community representatives working collaboratively for over four years to 2004, on how BC Hydro stores and releases water within the Campbell River system.

From 2000 to 2006, we had challenges with unplanned flow reductions from the John Hart Generating Station and the potential impacts to salmon habitat downstream. People in the community were very concerned about these events, as were BC Hydro staff. This ultimately led to the replacement of the powerhouse with a new underground powerhouse that has a water bypass facility in place to automatically operate, when called upon, to protect downstream fish habitat with constant river discharges. The project was initiated in 2007 and essentially wrapped up at the end of 2019. It was a big success. For the community, in addition to having a safer and more reliable powerhouse facility, the project had other benefits including a new and improved City of Campbell River Domestic Water Supply System, the Rotary Club’s Elk Falls Suspension Bridge with its 200,000 or so visitors per year, and a construction economic boost with a peak of 500 jobs in Campbell River.

In 2012, the removal of the Heber River Diversion Dam, which benefited the Strathcona Provincial Park, fish, wildlife, and First Nations, who disagreed with water intended for the West Coast diverted to the Campbell River system and ultimately the East Coast of Vancouver Island. The facility, built in the late 1950s, was also near end of life.

In 2017, the removal of the Salmon River Diversion Dam, which benefited salmon in providing unhindered fish passage and access to ideal upstream fish habitat. The facility built in the late 1950s was also near end of life. The capital project was co-managed with First Nations, a first for BC Hydro.

The placement of our new Campbell River District Office, for mostly our powerline related staff who were previously at the old office on Evergreen Road, on the We Wai Kai Nation Indian Reserve at Quinsam Crossing. This was another first for BC Hydro in our ongoing relationship with First Nations.

We’ve also successfully worked through very dry weather conditions, or very wet conditions such as in 2016 when we released high flows through the hydroelectric system for flood risk management from the major and successive storms that hit the region. The new water use plan helped with this. It was also key to work closely with government fish agencies and local emergency response leaders to manage through those extreme weather events. Major weather swings seem to be happening more frequently.

The successful upgrade of the Campbell River Substation on the top of 7th Avenue, where we added a third transformer to keep up with electricity load growth, and did extensive seismic slope stabilization work on the north side of the substation property.

There are people in the community and within BC Hydro that I’ve known and collaborated with for 20 years. Some only a few months. Yet together we will engage each other with open minds and listening ears. This foundation will be beneficial to all as there’s more big challenges ahead with the proposed seismic upgrades to the John Hart Dam, Ladore Dam and Strathcona Dam facilities. These three large proposed major projects may begin as early as 2023/2024 and construction may last for up to five years – a big part of the next decade. There is still much work to do.

The journey continues in maintaining a safe, reliable system that also considers the social and environmental values of the communities in which we work and live.

Stephen Watson

BC Hydro

Campbell River