Campbell River watershed levels “very low”: BC Hydro

A photo of the conditions at Buttle Lake from March 21st, 2019. Photo courtesy of Johnny Mac.

CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C- Water flows through Campbell River are likely going to be lower than normal this summer.

That’s according to BC Hydro, who released a new forecast for water levels and inflows into the area’s watershed on Monday.

As the power authourity said last month, February was cold and dry, and March continued that very dry trend but with warmer temperatures.

“February precipitation was 30% of normal and March was at only 18 per cent,” read the announcement.

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“Water inflows into the Campbell River system have been very low since early-February to mid-March. Warmer than normal temperatures since about mid-March has created some modest snowmelt. The Vancouver Island snowpack is about 55% of normal for this time year.  The snowpack typically peaks around the end of April.”

Their updated water supply forecast for the period from February to September is showing 61 per cent of normal, while the residual forecast for water inflow from April to September is at 68 per cent of normal.

“We reduced the total discharge in the Campbell River down to 69 cubic metres per second from about 80 cubic metres per second on March 25,” read the advisory.

“The riverbed is fully covered with water at about 80 cubic metres per second. We are working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and found that more fish habitat, mainly for fry, would be exposed near 60 cubic metres per second, so we did not reduce flow lower than 69 cubic metres per second. We will likely hold at this flow rate until moving down to 60 m3/s and finally to 30 m3/s sometime in June. We may then hold at that level through September. These flow rates through June are well below targeted flows because of water abundance.”

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The link between the Upper Campbell Reservoir and Buttle Lake is at 213.3 metres. According to BC Hydro, a natural constriction between the two lakes begins to appear below 214 metres, which prevents Buttle Lake from decreasing very much below that level.

“Upper Campbell Reservoir hit a low of 213.01 metres on April 1 and is hovering slightly above that level due to some rain this past week,” read the announcement.

“212 metres is our minimum reservoir level. The current forecast has the reservoir level now slowly increasing and peaking at about 215.5 metres in July, which is below the target for summer reservoir recreation of 217 metres to 220.5 metres.”

The Lower Campbell Reservoir/McIvor Lake is currently at 175.7 metres.

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“The current forecast has the reservoir level hovering around 176 metres and it may decrease to about 175.4 metres in the summer,” read the announcement.

“The target for this reservoirs summer recreation level is 176.5 metres to 177.5 metres.”

The reservoir for the John Hart Dam is usually at the same level year round.

“Campbell River reservoir levels and river flows this spring and summer will be dependent on snowmelt and rain events,” read the announcement.

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“We will be conserving water as much as we can with the current operational regime planned through the summer. The regime is subject to change based on a variety of weather and operational factors.”

Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, said the recent rain hadn’t done much in the watershed due to the way the storm tracked, and how big the system is.

“So, unfortunately in this case, we have recreation level targets at Buttle Lake, Upper Campbell reservoir, that’s been an elevation of 217 to 220 above sea level, and the way it’s looking right now, we may peak at 215.5 or about a metre and a half below the lower end of summer recreational targets,” said Watson.

“We’ll what transpires, it is Vancouver Island after all, things can change, but at least for now it’s very low, and may be low into the summer periods.”

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Watson said this would be an advisory about very low levels to residents who head into the Buttle Lake area and other parts of the watershed for recreation.

Watson also re-stated that the flow downriver could drop to 30 cubic metres per second in June.

“These flow levels are certainly not where we’d like to see them, for this time of year, and into the spring, but given the water abundance and how low it is, we’re just trying to conserve where we can on the Campbell River system,” said Watson.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some rain. Even at that, it’s a large system. The last few months, it’s been a long haul in terms of the amount of water flow releasing downstream versus the amount of water coming in. We’ll see what happens.”