Hydro-hosted meeting looks at reservoir levels

Anticipated lake levels could be lower than many would prefer

Hugh L. Keenleyside Dam

Arrow Reservoir users could be in for another frustrating summer when it comes to water levels in Arrow Lake.

At a meeting hosted by BC Hydro last on Tuesday, June 11, Jim McNaughton, senior engineer, operations planning for BC Hydro told attendees that while the predicted runoff for the Arrow Reservoir is forecasted to be at 102 per cent of the normal, that could change as summer comes into full swing.

“Given current conditions, BC Hydro expects that the Arrow water level may drop below the preferred summer recreation level of 1,435 feet during this period. Although this water level is relatively uncommon, it is well within the historical range. Water levels on August 1 from the years 1968 to present have ranged from a low of about 1,400 feet to a high of about 1,446 feet.”

This is also due, in part, to upgrades being done at Mica Dam and the installation of two new generators.

BC Hydro plans to limit generation at Mica for most of the summer to safely allow ongoing project work to replace aging switchgear equipment in the underground powerhouse. As a result, outflows from Mica and downstream Revelstoke dams are expected to be lower than normal from July through September.

One reservoir user voiced her frustration at this news, saying that while she fully understands Hydro’s obligations under the Columbia River Treaty and Hydro’s operating requirements, especially during the upgrades, there has to be a balance.

“I know [downstream users] need water, but don’t take it all out of the reservoir. I really want my grandkids to enjoy the lake without having to walk half a mile to get to the water.”

McNaughten acknowledged her concerns but pointed out that the upgrades should be finished this year and thus will hopefully help alleviate some of the reservoir woes.

“But, we do have treaty rules and treaty rules say that a certain amount of water has to be stored at certain times of the year.”

For that attendee, it wasn’t quite enough to soothe her frustration.

“Hydro has to realize that the people of the Basin are suffering. I think it needs to not be all about money.”

McNaughten said while Hydro was not going to definitively rule out spilling water from July to September, there would be a deep financial cost associated with doing so.

In prior public meetings with Hydro, the subject of added debris both in the reservoir and on the shoreline was also a concern. The amount of debris is directly linked to reservoir level fluctuations.

Mary Anne Coules, stakeholder engagement advisor for Hydro, said this year should be not as bothersome when it comes to debris.

“We expect the water level to peak at a lower level than last year and that would mean less debris on the water. BC Hydro has an ongoing debris management program to remove woody debris from Arrow Lakes Reservoir shoreline,” Coules said.

The preferred summer recreation level of the reservoir from July to September is 1,435 feet. Coules said that while that level is “relatively uncommon, it’s still within the historical range.”

“Water levels on August 1 from the years 1968 to present have ranged from a low of about 1,400 feet to a high of about 1,446 feet,” Coules added.

As to next year’s reservoir levels, Coules said Hydro is hopeful that those levels should be a little more to the users’ liking.

“The work at Mica is scheduled to be completed this year so that should not affect next year’s summer recreation levels.”

McNaughten warned, however, that nothing is set in stone for 2014 when it comes to reservoir levels.

“It’s too early to forecast the reservoir levels for 2014 as we need to account for snowpack levels, projected weather patterns in the Columbia basin, load requirements, Columbia River Treaty provisions and other variables which are impossible to predict,” explained McNaughten.

The Mica Dam upgrades are slated to be completed in 2014 and are projected to cost between $169 million and $189 million.

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