Seismic hazards & our dams

Water intake at John Hart dam at Campbell River

World-class safety program bolstered by six-year study

A six-year study has given BC Hydro powerful new tools to calculate seismic hazards in British Columbia.

We now better understand the potential location and impact of where major earthquakes will occur in B.C., and we're using the information to better assess and focus on seismic upgrades at our generation facilities.

BC Hydro has for many decades assessed seismic hazards at our dams and related facilities, and seismic upgrades are ongoing. A 2013 independent external audit by two international experts found that BC Hydro has a strong dam safety program and a robust risk assessment process consistent with international best practices.

But in recent years, we've recognized that with new information about earthquakes in B.C. now available, it was time to update our assessment model.

With the goal of creating a best-in-class model for calculating earthquake hazards in B.C., BC Hydro leaned on international seismic experts as part of a six-year, $10 million Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis (PSHA) study. In the process, we've become the first non-nuclear utility in North America to elevate seismic hazard assessment of its dams using processes similar to those used by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

See all reports related to dam safety

What the study tells us

The PSHA study includes two key findings:

  • For most of BC Hydro's 41 dam sites, including dams on the Peace and Columbia rivers systems that account for 80% of BC Hydro's total generating capacity, earthquake hazard levels are about the same as earlier assessment methods suggested
  • For some dam sites, on Vancouver Island and at Bridge River, the hazards are higher than earlier calculated

For more details on our dam safety program, download the Keeping Our Systems Safe booklet [PDF, 10.2 MB]

For a look at the Jordan River system, where the seismic hazard is the highest among BC Hydro facilities, see our Jordan River page.

$1.9 billion in upgades help us better prepare for earthquakes

BC Hydro is investing $1.9 billion over 10 years on our seismic upgrade program, while also working with emergency responders and others to better plan for how to respond to a major earthquake.

BC Hydro's dam safety program adheres to international best practices

BC Hydro owns, operates and maintains 79 dams at 41 sites across British Columbia. Our comprehensive dam safety program has been compared favorably to the leading programs around the world.

The program includes:

  • Continual monitoring of dams via thousands of instruments
  • Identification and assessment of issues with dams
  • Planning to address issues in priority sequence
  • Interim measures to manage risk prior to completion of seismic upgrades

To meet the requirements of the B.C. Dam Safety Regulation, BC Hydro's dam safety program is based on inspections, independent expert reviews, and monitoring of instrumentation data from the dams. Potential deficiencies are identified for further study, and when dam safety improvements are found to be necessary, the projects are prioritized and brought into BC Hydro's capital planning process.

Our dam safety action plan

We have a long-term plan to help reduce the potential downstream risks to people, property and infrastructure in the event of a major seismic event.

Over the next decade, BC Hydro will invest about $1.9 billion in dam safety and seismic upgrades.

What we're doing on Vancouver Island

We're spending $700 million on Vancouver Island dam safety upgrades. This is in addition to the $1-billion John Hart project that will also address seismic concerns in the Campbell River area.

The Campbell River system includes the John Hart Dam, Strathcona Dam and Ladore Dam.

In fall 2014, BC Hydro also announced the John Hart Dam Safety Upgrade Project is in preliminary stages of design and review, First Nation consultation and community engagement. That project could begin as early as 2019.

Also on Vancouver Island, the Jordan River system includes the Jordan River Diversion Dam and the smaller Elliott and Bear Creek Dams. Even though the Jordan Diversion Dam was upgraded in 1991 and the Bear Creek reservoir level was reduced in 1993 to minimize the possible consequences of a dam failure during a major earthquake, new information from the seismic hazard (PSHA) study puts the Jordan River system at the highest seismic hazard within BC Hydro's system.

 Learn more about seismic hazard at Jordan River.

What we're doing at Bridge River

The dams and related facilities that make up the Bridge River system, located in the southern Interior near Lillooet, are safe and well managed. The seismic hazard (PSHA) study confirmed there is an increased seismic hazard at Terzaghi Dam.

A study is underway at Terzaghi to assess the dam's performance, and at Seton, a study will be prioritized in future work plans to assess the dam's performance.

There's a slight decrease in hazard at La Joie Dam. However, until we complete upgrades to the dam, we've taken the additional step of reducing the peak level of the reservoir.  

Emergency planning and communication

Following a 2012 Disaster Preparedness Audit, BC Hydro has improved its oversight of emergency management planning, updated earthquake response and recovery plans, and increased training for BC Hydro employees in the event of a major earthquake.

We'll also be increasing our emergency planning at our facilities and ensuring that strong lines of communication are in place with local emergency response agencies. We'll work with these groups to ensure communities understand the location of evacuation areas in the event of a major earthquake that may cause a dam failure.

Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis Study