Record-low water levels in the Campbell River reservoir

WatchBC Hydro has cut the flow into the Campbell River to the lowest allowable levels because the water behind the John Hart Dam is already concerningly low. Dean Stoltz reports.

The province says Vancouver Island remains at Level 3 drought or “very dry” and it can be seen in reservoirs and rivers.

The Campbell River is currently as low as BC Hydro is allowed to let it go under its water license because spawning salmon will soon begin returning to the river.

But it’s been a difficult balancing act for the utility because the reservoir system behind the John Hart and Strathcona dams, consisting mainly of Campbell Lake, Upper Campbell Lake, and Buttle Lake, is way lower than it should be at this time of year.

“The precipitation rates since February are around 35 to 40 per cent of normal, thankfully the snowpack was near normal at that stage in January,” stated BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson.

Since then the snowpack has long been depleted and the often reliable “June-uary” never materialized with the rain. Watson says it if wasn’t for the dams holding back water, the Campbell River and Puntledge River in Courtenay could be just a trickle right now.

“We’ve had some sporadic storms into July, a little bit more later this week, but for the overall watersheds and the reservoirs, it really doesn’t do anything. Basically, for Puntledge and Campbell River we’re releasing more water than what’s coming in,” he said.

In 60 years of record keeping, the Campbell River reservoir has only been this low once at this time of year and it wasn’t that long ago: 2015.

The outlook doesn’t look much better.

“We have a water supply forecast from February to September that considers snowpack, rainfall, historical records and it’s showing for this system to be about 64% of normal and if that translates through September that’ll be the lowest water supply we’ve ever seen in 60 years,” said Watson.

The Comox Lake reservoir appears nearly full but it is dropping slowly.

“The Comox Lake reservoir level is currently at about 134.6 metres and slowly trending downward. 135.33 metres is full, and the 131 metre level is where we get concerned about providing downstream river flows,” he said.

Power generation has been affected as well.

“We have been running the 24-megawatt generating station at about 7 MW, or about 30 per cent of capacity, to conserve water. This equates to a downstream water release to provide the minimum fish habitat flow of 15.6 m3/s just below the generating station,” said Watson.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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