BC Hydro reinvests in heritage assets on Campbell River system

John Hart Generating Station, part of the Campbell River system.

Posted by Stephen Watson

Enter the Campbell River System: a world-class location with Strathcona Provincial Park, Elk Falls, the Canyon View Trail, and a legacy of world-renowned salmon fishing. It's also the location of BC Hydro's Strathcona, Ladore, and John Hart hydroelectric facilities, that combined, generate 237 megawatts or just over 10 per cent of Vancouver Island's peak winter electricity demand.

BC Hydro has a legacy in the Campbell River community going back to 1947 with the construction of the John Hart Generating Station and John Hart Dam. These facilities provided the power that enabled the growth of the community.

For over 60 years BC Hydro has and continues to be a large part of the community with it's John Hart facilities and lands surrounded by the Elk Falls Provincial Park. Starting around 2012, and continuing for about five years, BC Hydro will embark on the busiest construction period since the facilities were first built; it's now time for some major BC Hydro capital upgrades. The proposed projects combined will be over $1-billion.

The feature project is the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project. There are three main project drivers:

  • The facility is near the end of its effective life;
  • There are seismic concerns for the facilityin the event of a major earthquake;
  • There is inadequate water flow bypass to maintain river flow continuity for fish.

This project will bring improved public safety, continued reliable power generation and environmental benefit.

Water from the John Hart Reservoir travels 1.8 km through three pipelines to the generating station. During a forced station outage, such as a lightning strike, the intake gates close at the dam and cause a river flow reduction that may impact fish. The new design will have an improved water bypass facility to allow for the quick transfer of water past the generating station and into the river to maintain river flows.

BC Hydro's preliminary design in early 2010 was to replace the wood stave pipelines, retain the steel pipelines and surge towers given their good condition, and build a replacement generating station to the south of the existing station. Now, with the results of a seismic review of John Hart Dam completed in early 2010, layouts may change as BC Hydro seeks ongoing optimization for its facilities.

A new design option for downstream water passage from the reservoir is a 2 km tunnel built through rock – it would essentially eliminate the seismic risks associated with the pipeline system. If the tunnel ends up being the selected option then the above-ground pipelines would be removed.

The first phase of the Strathcona Dam Safety Upgrade Project started last fall to address identified seismic concerns. The largest dam on Vancouver Island, it is half-a-kilometre long and 53 m high. The focus of the work is the intake tower, located on the upstream side of the dam, that passes water through the dam to the generating station.

One of the unique aspects of the work, scheduled to be complete this fall, is drilling 22 steel rods through the 36.5 m tall structure and into the bedrock below for better anchoring. This type of precision drilling and anchoring work on a hydroelectric facility has never been done before in Canada, and has been done on only one facility in the United States. When complete, it will have increased the intake tower's seismic withstand five-fold.

This world-class location is being upgraded by world-class hydroelectric capital projects. BC Hydro continues to seek innovation and technology to ensure the projects are successful, and to provide additional legacies for future generations to enjoy.
Stephen Watson is with BC Hydro's Vancouver Island Community Relations group.