British Columbia

'It'll be a tougher summer': Vancouver Island reservoirs low after dry winter

B.C. Hydro is preparing for lower water levels in some Vancouver Island reservoirs and watersheds in the coming months, after a particularly dry winter.

More April showers would help, but full recovery of reservoirs unlikely, says B.C. Hydro

Puntledge River, at the outlet of the Comox Lake Reservoir, is a popular spot during the summer. The dry winter has led to low water levels, however. (BC Hydro)

B.C. Hydro is preparing for lower water levels in some Vancouver Island reservoirs and watersheds in the coming months, after a particularly dry winter.

Both the Puntledge and Campbell rivers are running low and that impacts everything from salmon runs to boating tourists, as well as electric utility operations.

"It'll be a tougher summer," said Stephen Watson, a stakeholder engagement adviser with BC Hydro. "There's not a lot of water abundance."

The Puntledge River, a small watershed, is particularly susceptible to fluctuating rainfall because of its size. Even with the extra rainfall over the weekend, B.C. Hydro is still only running its power facility there at about 20 percent of capacity.

The Campbell River, one of the largest and main watersheds on the island, is also much lower than usual for this time of year.

Water storage 'bathtub' runs low

The river system has three reservoirs and the Upper Campbell reservoir acts as the "bathtub" in terms of water storage, Watson said.

"The bathtub itself operates between around 212 metres to 220.5 metres — it's quite a large variation," he told CBC's On The Island.

"It hit a low of 213 meters roughly, just around April 1."

The water has come up slightly since then, he said, but is once again levelling off after a few days of dry weather.

One of the concerns surrounding low water levels has to do with fish runs. Ideally, the river is flowing at about 80 cubic meters per second for the fish runs — but right now, it's at 69 cubic meters per second.

B.C. Hydro is working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada ahead of the salmon migration.

A red-coloured salmon is visible beneath shallow water. Pebbles and logs are visible.
Fish need a certain amount of water flow and levels to be able to migrate successfully. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The other concern is recreation and tourism come summertime, Watson said.

"We get tens of thousands of people over the summer — they're going to see Upper Campbell reservoir just not recover," he said.

"[That means] more exposed shorelines and it'll be kind of hard to put a boat in the reservoir."

Watson hasn't given up hope for a change in weather and more rainfall — but acknowledges that it may be too late.

"We'd love to have some April showers," Watson said.

"A really wet April and May would help but even at that, I'm not sure if it will completely recover."

With files from On The Island


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