Stories & Features

Update on preparations for possible flooding near Campbell River, Courtenay

Comox Dam spillway gates

Heavy rains on Vancouver Island are creating challenges for our reservoirs

Mid-Vancouver Island has been receiving record precipitation since October. Our Ash River and Puntledge River watersheds set new 36-year-old rainfall totals for the month of October. And November has been off to an extremely wet start.

Last week, we had significant rainfall near our generating facilities on Vancouver Island, particularly Courtenay and Comox, as well as Campbell River. Continued rainstorms this week have dropped a lot of water in the Puntledge River and Campbell River watersheds in a very short period of time. This means elevated water levels on the Puntledge, Campbell, Browns and Tsolum Rivers – and much higher water elevations within our reservoirs.

Looking ahead through the remainder of this week, we're expecting significant rainfall to continue.

We're coordinating our activities with Comox Valley emergency response leaders and raising awareness about possible impacts for residents and businesses in the Comox and Courtenay areas. We’re also working with the City of Campbell River, Strathcona Regional District and Emergency Management BC on preparations and awareness for the Campbell River area.

Our dams are operating as intended and are designed to safely manage reservoir levels during this period of heavy rainfall.

By the numbers: what's happening, what's expected

Campbell River (Campbell River watershed):

  • We've had between 100 and 150 mm (10 to 15 cm) rain fall into to the upper watershed since the current storm began Sunday evening.
  • Water inflows in the area and stream flows on the river continue to be very high. On Tuesday morning, the hourly inflow rate was around 1,300 m3/s. What's that mean? Try to imagine the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool entering the reservoir every two seconds.
  • Spills from John Hart Dam in Elk Falls Canyon were increased Tuesday afternoon to 440 m3/s. This will provide a total discharge from John Hart facilities, including the generating station, to about 560 m3/s, one of the highest downstream flow rates in our records. There is a possibility of isolated flooding at these flow rates.

The forecast for this week is concerning, particularly as the reservoir is now full and risen to 220.9 metres. Our operations team is working to keep the upper reservoir below 222 metres. Reservoir levels above 222 metres require us to pass total inflows into the reservoir downstream.

The likelihood for increasing downstream flooding in the Campbellton area of Campbell River has now increased and with the planned discharge, the Quinsam River and ocean tides may cause isolated flooding along the river down to the estuary. The flood risk will likely exist through this week. We're working very closely with the City of Campbell River and Strathcona Regional District staff on emergency coordination and potential flood response.

Courtenay (Puntledge River watershed):

  • About 450 mm of rain has fallen in the upper Puntledge River watershed in November, following a record 527 mm of total rainfall in October. That's a huge amount of water.
  • We currently have extremely high water levels in the reservoirs.
  • The reservoir level begins to free-spill over the Comox dam at 135.33 metres – the reservoir at 2 pm Tuesday was 135.6 metres and slowly rising. Our ability to hold back water to limit downstream flooding diminishes as reservoir levels rise.

BC Hydro will now spill as much water as possible through Thursday afternoon to try to lower the reservoir for more storms forecasted on Thursday and Friday, and possibly Sunday to Monday. The Puntledge River will remain very high. The possibility of isolated flooding in Courtenay is still there but has diminished through Wednesday.

Our generation operations team is working to operate the system for flood risk management, particularly when we decrease discharges from the Comox dam for the high tides. Unfortunately, the high tides will be increasing this week from 4.7 metres to 5 metres on Saturday through Monday. This could make flood risk management operations more challenging should the storms continue into the weekend.

Safety is our primary concern

The safety of our crews and the public remains our top priority. We are working closely with local authorities to prepare for any possible flooding and impacts that may occur if we need to spill from our reservoirs. Residents in the areas around Courtenay, Comox, and Campbell River should expect very high stream flows.