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What happens when a dam is decommissioned?

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Posted by Chelsea Watt

What happens when a dam is decommissioned?

The Heber Dam is a 120-metre long, 10 metre high rock fill timber dam on the Heber River on Vancouver Island. At least, it was.

Following many years of collaboration between First Nations, government agencies, stakeholders and BC Hydro, the Heber Dam has been decommissioned, which means the dam has been removed and the river is flowing along its natural course for the first time in more than 50 years.

Watch the river go back to nature

Two new videos show the work involved in taking a dam away, piece by piece.

Hear from the stakeholders, First Nations and BC Hydro staff about how the project came to be, and what it means.

A river returns, in just two minutes

This time-lapse video shows the Heber River coming back to life, one step at a time.

Aging dam part of historical water system

The dam, located near Gold River in the centre of Vancouver Island, was built 54 years ago, and hadn't been generating power since 2006.

The dam was part of a system built in the 1940s and 1950s, used to move water from the Heber River into the Campbell River water system. Rather than storing water behind the dam, wood stave pipelines were used to divert water when it was available. Once diverted, the water was used to generate power three times, through generation facilities at the Strathcona, Ladore and John Hart dams.

Breaking down barriers for wildlife

Not only is the river flowing the way it used to, but important wildlife habitat is returning to its natural state as well.

The dam and pipelines created barriers for wildlife and for steelhead in the Heber River. The pipelines themselves crossed through Strathcona Provincial Park, the first provincial park in B.C.

With the dam decommissioned, the river and its surrounding area are headed back to the way that they used to be.

Chelsea Watt is a writer-editor with bchydro.com.