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BC Hydro continues to respond to historic low water levels on the South Coast

Despite less precipitation, power delivery is not being impacted

VANCOUVER: With colder, drier fall conditions than normal, BC Hydro continues to adjust its operations on the South Coast to maintain flow levels to reduce the impact on downstream fish habitats.  

BC Hydro will be able to continue to meet demand for electricity across the province this winter because of its large integrated hydroelectric system. However, it is currently recording historically low inflows at many of its smaller facilities in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. For example, on Vancouver Island, Comox experienced the lowest accumulated inflows from October 1 to present that it has out of 60 years of records. In the Lower Mainland, most facilities are also seeing the lowest inflows on record.  

While cold and dry conditions like this have occurred in the past, they are not seen often, and the fact that they have persisted so long is resulting in the record low inflows. The last time inflows close to these levels were recorded on the South Coast was in 2006 and the 2013/2014 fall/winter season.

"The light precipitation this fall has not had a significant impact on our smaller facilities on the South Coast," said Kevin Aquino, BC Hydro spokesperson. "In fact, some of the inflow reduction is associated with having earlier snowpack build because of unseasonable cold temperatures in November and December, which means the precipitation falling is not refilling the reservoirs. That is why we have been taking proactive steps for many months at some of our facilities to conserve water to protect the downstream fish habitat."

BC Hydro's reservoirs play an important role in managing these difficult conditions by using storage and planning releases to provide protection to downstream river flows. While many of BC Hydro's smaller systems in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island are under pressure, it is currently able to continue to meet demand for electricity. British Columbians benefit from BC Hydro's integrated, provincial electricity system to send power across the province, including to Vancouver Island. Most of the electricity generated and used in B.C. is produced by larger facilities in the north and southeast of the province – and while water levels in those areas are below normal levels, there is currently enough water in its reservoirs to meet the province's power need. We are monitoring water levels and taking measures to ensure customers continue to receive reliable power.

Forecasts are currently showing no rain or snow melt in the near-term on the South Coast. However, historical records indicate that rain and additional snowmelt run-off typically show up across January and February. This would increase reservoir levels prior to the normal spring snowmelt.

BC Hydro has plans in place to manage flows through this period to help protect downstream fish and has taken steps well beyond its requirements to support that. For example, in October, BC Hydro installed pumps on the Quinsam River on Vancouver Island to prevent the river from separating and drying up in effort to protect the fish habitat. This emergency project was successful by maintaining the downstream flows and keeping critical habitat wetted. BC Hydro will continue to adjust its operations until conditions improve. That includes conserving water and releasing less in order to sustain flows through the cold dry period.

Climate change affects both the magnitude and the likelihood of extreme events, and that is why BC Hydro is constantly adapting its methods to meet climate change challenges. BC Hydro continues to take steps to improve weather and inflow forecasting, including: 

  1. Looking at longer term (seasonal and annual) and near-term forecasts (next 14 days) when making planning decisions on reservoir management.
  2. Forecasting all coastal watersheds down to the hour, which improves the forecast accuracy for extreme events.
  3. Expanding its hydroclimate monitoring technology. This includes custom-made solutions that have been designed inhouse, as well as upgrading snow survey stations to automated, real-time snow and climate stations.
  4. Investing in capital projects—like spillway gate replacements—that will increase resiliency of the system to climate change.

BC Hydro Media Relations
p. 604 928 6468