Critics express Columbia River water plan views

Critics took advantage of a Columbia River Water Use Plan review meeting to express their concerns, views and complaints

Looking south down the Columbia River valley near the Akolkolex River.

Looking south down the Columbia River valley near the Akolkolex River.

BC Hydro is once again feeling the heat following a two-day meeting in Nakusp last week that provided a review of the Columbia River Water Use Plan, and where they attempted to explain the challenges of operating the Arrow Lakes reservoir to meet a variety of soft constraints.

Due to time constraints, the Arrow Lakes News was unable to attend the but we spoke to several people from Edgewood, Nakusp and Revelstoke who were there.

According to people who attended, there were 22 members of the public in attendance, and an equal number of BC Hydro personnel. A BC Hydro spokespeson said more than 30 stakeholder, including local government, First Nations and others attended.

“It was an odd meeting,” said Edgewood resident Ed McGinnis. “The first thing they said is they were talking about the Water Use Plan, but remind yourself there would no changes as a result of this consultation, so keep that in mind.

“They were just telling us what they were going to do and why they were going to do it.”

The Columbia River Water Use Plan (CWUP) looks to study a range of topics to determine how best to operate the Arrow Lakes Reservoir within the limited flexibility BC Hydro has outside of treaty obligations — the so-called soft constraints.

The plan was developed by a consultative committee and over the last five years a number of studies have been undertaken, looking at vegetation, wildlife, fish, culture & heritage, recreation, and erosion.

The Nakusp meeting was held to provide a five-year review of the plan.

“There was a lot of information shared during the session and we were pleased with the participation of the stakeholders that attended,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Sabrina Locicero in an e-mail. “The feedback and questions discussed provided us with valuable information that helps us better understand local interests and informs our decision making process when operating the system.

A fact sheet posted to the BC Hydro website outlines the optimum water levels for each area and the monitoring programs being undertaken. Recommendations are:

— For recreation, reservoir levels from 1,435 to 1,440 feet above sea level from May 24 to Sept. 30;

— For birds, a reservoir level below 1,424 feet from late April to mid July when birds are nesting; and below 1,438 feet from early August to late October during the migration season;

— Levels above 1,424 feet for kokanee access to spawning streams from late August to early November;

— Low levels during growing season to maintain 2004 levels of vegetation;

— Reservoir levels below 1,430 feet for as long as possible to limit impacts to archaeological sites;

— To limit erosion, minimize duration of full pool and avoid sudden drawdown once full pool has been reached. The ideal water level is 1,440 feet.

Locicero said the data would be assessed to show how and if BC Hydro could meet its soft constraint targets given the Columbia River Treaty obligations and a non-treaty storage agreement it has in place with the Bonneyville Power Authority. “This will be a major focus as we work through the full term of the Columbia River WUP implementation period,” she wrote.

Janet Spicer, whose family has run a farm in Nakusp for more than a century, attended the meeting. She is a long-time critic of BC Hydro’s operation of the Arrow Lakes reservoir.

She said based on the numbers BC Hydro presented, the reservoir should be maintained between 1,415 and 1,425 feet above sea level.

“The solution completely for everything is to lower the high water mark, raise the low water mark so you don’t have this huge draft — this big rise and draw down,” she told the Arrow Lakes News. “It’s too big for this valley, with its delicate silt bench lands, to sustain. It will always just be tumbling in. There will always be turbidity in the water, the fish won’t be able to spawn, the birds won’t be able to raise their young because their nests will be flooded.”

Spicer criticized the science presented by BC Hydro. She said reservoir operations have negatively impacted many aspects of area, including birds, erosion and recreation, but BC Hydro made poor comparisons and ignored evidence indicating otherwise.

“It was very clear that the parameters of these projects falsely proved the BC Hydro operating regime has no direct effect on so many things,” she said.

Spicer’s words were echoed by her sister Crystal, who e-mailed the Arrow Lakes News a long list of comments on all aspects of the water use plan.

“The audience generally disagreed with the WUP committee’s recommended targets and BC Hydro’s data and arguments for each issue,” Crystal wrote. “The audience generally agreed that with the Arrow Lakes reservoir level at around 1,425-feet elevation, all issues would be mitigated substantially.”

Francis Maltby, from Revelstoke, called BC Hydro’s studies “pharmaceutical science.”

“It’s not objective and it’s directed towards client needs rather than pure science,” he said.

He was involved in the original CWUP planning process and attended the Nakusp meeting.

“My thoughts on the meeting are that BC Hydro was presenting science, while valid, that dodged most of the important questions around reservoir operations,” he said. “The important questions are the ecological impacts of operating both the dams and reservoirs.”

McGinnis said he was hoping to hear more about future plans, especially after the next five years. “If you’ve already decided on next five years, what about next five years after that?” he asked.

Jody Lownds, who represented the Revelstoke-based North Columbia Environmental Society, said the meeting was more about why BC Hydro couldn’t meet all of its soft constraints.

“It seems like something they should have addressed when they came up with the soft constraints,” she said. “My big disappointment is that they didn’t seem inclined to follow adaptive management principles where you’re doing a bunch of tests and monitoring and if what you’re doing isn’t helping, to change what you’re doing.”

She said a common theme from people at the meeting was that BC Hydro should stop with massive fluctuations in the water levels. “I think anything that moderates the fluctuation would be better.”