Hydro having to use the spigot this summer

STRAIT TALK: Local residents have already been under Stage 1 water restrictions since May 1

It appears that the low-water situation on Vancouver Island has left BC Hydro facing a pretty kettle of fish.

At least there are still fish in the kettle — for now.

Historic low flows coming down from the mountains, resulting from the combination of a virtually snow-free winter and lack of spring rains, has forced Hydro officials into a rather unpleasant juggling act.

On one side are the recreational users of the lakes above John Hart dam, who are going to find boat-launch access and navigable waters more difficult to find as the shoreline recedes into the lakes.

On the other are the fish that have given Campbell River its unofficial title of Salmon Capital of the World — and a fair chunk of economic boost, as well. Without sufficient water flows below the John Hart dam and the hydroelectric power generating facilities, both spawning salmon on the way home and young smolts staging for their trip to sea are placed at risk.

Without water coming into the system, this is not an either/or situation for BC Hydro, which controls the spigot while answering to a variety of ministries and stakeholders. Both the fish and the boaters are going to face less-than-ideal conditions for the foreseeable future.

This is not a day-to-day situation. BC Hydro forecasts call for continued low-flow conditions through the summer and well into September. At least.

Those projections have already been revised between May and June, and all they’ve done is gotten worse.

This doesn’t even address the issue of BC Hydro’s actual business — that of generating power — or the little matter of water for drinking and cleaning in Campbell River households.

Local residents have already been under Stage 1 water restrictions since May 1. Based on forecasts, it seems more likely those restrictions will be upgraded than lifted.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the contentious issue of anthropogenic climate change. Is this simply a lone summer of discontent, or a trend of weather and climate patterns to come for Vancouver Island and the west coast?

We’ve always been able to count on the rain and snow returning at summer’s end. Though skiers hoping for a run down Mount Washington last winter can attest that isn’t always the case.

For an extreme example, consider California, which had a “bad summer” in 2012. It hasn’t ended yet.

Climate change can be addressed, if at all, only through mass mobilization and political will, against the inevitable pushback from entrenched economic and lifestyle interests.

For the immediate future we must choose our own course of action as individual residents. We can’t create rain or snow, but can be diligent in managing our own water use. Gardening season is in full swing, and nobody is advocating sacrificing fresh produce. But lawns can survive a yellow summer and pop back to life when the rains return. How shiny does your vehicle need to be; can you hold off longer between washes? If we get to Stage 3 restrictions, every turn of the tap will matter.

By this weekend, BC Hydro will be operating the John Hart generating station at 25 per cent of capacity, a low mark for this time of year.

Another hydroelectric project on the North Island, the Kokish run-of-river facility partly owned by the ‘Namgis First Nation, is also unable to divert water to it turbines when flows fall below those needed to sustain fish populations.

The less energy we’re getting from renewable sources, of course, means more we’re drawing from facilities powered by coal and other fossil fuels, which brings us back to the aforementioned greenhouse gas elephant.

If this keeps up, though, we can probably be assured of continued power generation from North Vancouver Island’s Cape Scott Wind Farm. Because it certainly seems an ill wind is blowing this summer.