Decommissioning dams is not such an odd proposal.
In fact, it’s an action being taken in many jurisdictions, particularly in the States where old, obsolete dams have even spawned organizations pursuing they’re removal.
The idea is to restore natural runs of river in areas where the dams no longer serve any purpose.
They’re usually on smaller rivers that have a large recreational potential.
The John Hart Dam decommissioning that provincial energy minister Rich Coleman momentarily contemplated is a different kettle of fish. the dam would have to lower a whole whack of water in the valley stretching all the way back up to Myra Falls.
Regardless of the hydroelectric implications and the safety of the dam structure, hundreds of thousands of dollars would have to be spent on reforestation in the previous water levels. What a project that would have been. Lately, we’ve been getting a taste of what it would be like if water levels on the Buttle-Campbell lake and river system would look like and it ain’t pretty.
Buttle and Upper Campbell lakes currently link but historically they had stretches of the Campbell River between them. When the Ellis Expedition ventured into the region 101 years ago to investigate the creation of a provincial park, they spent a lot of time poling upstream. The Strathcona recreation expedition last year paddled most of the way up into Buttle Lake because of the huge reservoir created by the dams.
In recent years, drought conditions have required the lake level to be lowered significantly. The bare, glaring-yellow rock shoreline has stood out in stark contrast to the forested slopes and dark rocks of the mountains that make up the Buttle Lake valley. Wharves at Strathcona Park Lodge get stranded and the shoreline gleams so brightly, you almost have to squint your eyes to reduce the glare of sunny days. If the John Hart Dam and presumably the Strathcona Dam were to be removed, an extensive replanting program would be needed and that shore would take decades to look natural.
That’s if you were to take the dams out. If you didn’t, there would still be a cost to maintain the dams both structurally and functionally as you’d have to open the floodgates at low water times to ensure there’s enough water in the Campbell River for salmon runs.
It’s always nice to return an area to its natural state – lots of work has been done in that regard in the Campbell River estuary – but it would be hugely problematic to do it in the Buttle-Campbell system. Plus the results probably wouldn’t be seen in my lifetime.
Coleman obviously didn’t have all the information he should have when he made that pronouncement but he was soon put straight on the issue. He just say a saving of $1.35 billion and said there’s some good political optics.