BC Hydro says power in the province isn’t at risk, but that drought conditions have reduced water levels at some of its Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland watersheds to record or near-record lows.
Since Sept. 1, water flowing into those reservoirs has been as low as 5.5 per cent of what it would normally be, according to a new report released by the electricity supplier on Thursday (Oct. 13).
The most dire inflow levels have been at the Jordan River, Alouette Lake and ASH Forebay sites, at 5.5 per cent, 5.6 per cent and six per cent of normal, respectively. Near Campbell River, four other sites broke a 53-year-old record for the lowest September inflows in history.
The month was the hottest and driest on record for many parts of the province, according to Environment Canada and, so far, October has been much of the same. As of Oct. 6, B.C. says three regions are experiencing Level 5 drought levels, the most extreme end of a five-point scale. Another seven are at a Level 4 and eight are at a Level 3. Twelve are considered a Level 2, while just four are a Level 1.
In some regions, the drought conditions have been enough to dry up vital stretches of water entirely. Recent video from the Neekas Creek, which runs through Heiltsuk Territory in the central coast region of the province, shows thousands of dead salmon laying in the dried up waterway.
Conservation manager William Housty told Black Press Media the Neekas Creek has seen the worst of it, but many other creeks have been far drier than usual too.
BC Hydro said in order to prevent that level of devastation in the waterways it manages, they’ve been carefully controlling the release of water from their reservoirs since July. In their Thursday report, the company draws a direct connection between the unusual weather conditions and climate change, and says the latter is increasingly forcing them to be ready for extreme and sudden events.
“Symptoms of climate change include increased frequency of extreme events like drought and intense storms, rapid glacial melt, increasing temperatures and amount of precipitation will directly affect electric utilities like BC Hydro that rely on water to generate power,” reads the report.
Fortunately for this year, the electricity supplier says water levels – while low everywhere – remain at safe levels at all their largest facilities. The province’s power supply, in other words, is not at risk.
BC Hydro says they use in-house weather and run-off forecasting systems to determine when to release water and when to conserve it, including hourly systems at all coastal watersheds. The company plans to expand monitoring technology to include real-time snowpack reports and invest further in spillway gates in the coming years.