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NEWS: Run-of-river power projects killing fish in BC rivers

The Vancouver Sun reports that the Capital Power run-of-river hydro plant located on the Mamquam River in British Columbia is killing fish.

The article notes, “The independent power industry bills itself as green, sustainable and environmentally responsible. But more than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by the Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish – and the problem is not isolated.”

“The documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants, Capital Power on the lower Mamquam and Innergex on Ashlu Creek, another tributary of the Squamish. In one incident on Ashlu Creek, on May 8, 2010, 166 salmon and trout fry became stranded due to rapidly dropping water levels. Fewer than half of the fry could be returned to the creek alive. Another 39 fry died during a stranding on April 20, 2011.”

“At present, there are 50 private hydro projects in operation and selling power to BC Hydro, half of them in the south coast region. Another 62 are in the planning or construction phase. Applications are outstanding for another 635 water-power projects, although not all are expected to be approved. Run-of-river projects produce electricity by diverting river water – typically in a steep canyon – and sending it through an underground pipe to a powerhouse. The water is then returned to the river.”

“The provincial and federal governments work together to set regulations for run-of-river projects, including general minimum stream flows and specific rates for short-term fluctuations – known as ramping. Ramping may occur for reasons such as the shutdown of a power plant for maintenance or an unanticipated failure. During this process, water levels rise and fall in the river, but power producers are supposed to ensure these changes are made gradually – a maximum 2.5 centimetres per hour to prevent stranding of fry that inhabit the shallow edges of the river downstream.”

“Water is money to this fast-growing industry. The volume of water that power plants are required to leave in streams on a continuing basis as well as the rate of short-term ramping affect their ability to produce electricity. The more water they have to leave in the river, the less they have for power production. Companies ‘argue economic hardship” when it comes to diverting water because of fish, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) states in minutes of a July 21, 2011, inter-agency meeting on a proposed run-of-river project on the Kokish River on northeastern Vancouver Island. Government officials face a ‘significant challenge’ to reduce water available for power generation ‘because proponents are reluctant to reduce revenues,’ the minutes stated.”

“The Wilderness Committee is calling for a moratorium on further approvals of such projects and federal charges where fish and fish habitat have suffered.”

The Council of Canadians
In 2008, then BC-Yukon organizer Carleen Pickard wrote, “The provincial government has opened the door to applications for ‘water licences’ which, when granted, allow private corporations to develop Run-of-River hydro projects. These projects create dams and divert water in order to generate hydro-electricity from hundreds of B.C. rivers. BC Hydro is then forced to buy this energy back for public consumption, locking the public into purchasing energy previously generated publicly from private corporations. Sound crazy? Many people think so.”

She added, “The Council of Canadians has joined with environmental groups, labour organizations, citizens’ advocacy groups and sports organizations to call on the B.C. government to enact a moratorium and stop the reckless give-away of B.C.’s rivers and the control over public power. Council chapters in Powell River and Golden are opposing projects under way in their regions, while other chapters – Campbell River and Comox, for example – are working with their regional districts to support the moratorium.”

In July 2011, the Golden chapter successfully campaigned to stop Selkirk Power’s proposal for its Beaver River ‘independent power project’ on the Ventego and Cupola Creeks in British Columbia. Golden chapter activist Trevor Hamre has stated, “We see the sale of our rivers as theft from the commons.” More on that at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9893.

Campaign blogs related to run-of-river projects can be found at http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22run-of-river%22.