Record lows at BC Hydro watersheds due to winter drought

Usually at this time of year, BC Hydro's generators are working at full capacity, but the watersheds on Vancouver Island are much too low, causing concerns for the amount the utility will have to work with throughout the year.

BC Hydro has four watersheds on Vancouver Island, Jordan River by Sooke, Ash River system in Port Alberni, Puntledge River in the Comox Valley, and the Campbell River system.

Stephen Watson with BC Hydro says we had a wet, mild winter, but that changed and since February 1st, the weather has been unusually dry and very cool.

"So what's happened now is that some of the snow pack and the rains that were there are now kind of locked up in that snow and ice.  And so we are seeing record low water inflows for this time of year, over the past month, in our watersheds.  It's a winter drought, we do get it from time to time, and the inflows into our systems are quite similar to what we would see in late summer."

He says they are producing energy with their sites, but in some systems, like Puntledge River, they are in water conservation mode in order to provide enough water for the downstream fish habitats.

Watson says that while Puntledge River is suffering the most, the other systems aren't faring much better.  The water supply forecast is breaking a 50 year record low for this time of year.

"I think everyone's used that snow being on the ground and assuming that the conditions are good, but the water supply forecast that we have for a lot of our systems on the island are only showing a 75% of normal for water inflow looking at the summer.  So this is like recreation in the reservoirs, this is recreation in the rivers, domestic water supply, all these kinds of things feed into it."

He says the island is in need of some significant rain storms in the coming weeks and months in order to bring the water levels back up before the snow pack melts.

Watson goes on to say that while BC Hydro has had to deal with winter droughts before, the watersheds they feed off have to accommodate other uses, like domestic water use, recreation, and preserving fish habitat.

He says the utility is looking ahead and preparing in case the weather stays dry through the next few months.

"We will manage through it, we'll work with local governments, whether it's, for example, the Comox Valley Regional District in the Comox Valley, the DFO, and others.  We will continue to inform and update and work together to manage through conditions like these."

Watson says they will conserve as much water as possible going into the spring and summer, and in case of a very dry summer, they will have water in reserve to pump into salmon spawning streams in the fall.

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