By Karen Bergman
About 30 people showed up for BC Hydro’s annual public information meeting on Wednesday last week at Wardner’s Steeplesview Community Centre.
Staff from BC Hydro, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presented information on B.C.’s Columbia River Basin. BC Hydro staff also gave a general system update at the end, including the Smart Meter project.
The Koocanusa/Libby Dam Reservoir topic was of particular interest to the meeting attendees. B.C. Hydro’s Kelvin Ketchum (Generation System Optimization Portfolio Manager) started with a summary of the Columbia Basin hydroelectric system. The system is managed under the 1964 Canada-U.S. Columbia River Treaty. The Treaty required Canada to build storage reservoirs (Mica, Arrow and Duncan) and operate them for optimum power generation and flood control downstream in both countries. The Treaty also permitted the U.S. to build and operate the Libby Dam project on the Kootenai River. Some Canadian land along the Kootenai River was flooded to create the Dam reservoir and Koocanusa Lake was created.
Ketchum explained the Treaty lays out how the reservoirs, including Libby Dam/Koocanusa Lake, are to be operated according to specific conditions. Later, The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Bill Proctor (Chief, Reservoir Control Centre) explained more about how the Libby Dam/Koocanusa Lake water levels are controlled. Snow pack is one factor. The lake level is kept low enough in spring to allow for a sudden snow pack melt and possible heavy spring rain. This buffer is generally 10-15 feet lower than full pool at the end of June and goes down to about five feet by the end of July. Without a buffer the risk is that a sudden snow pack melt and/or rain could cause flooding downstream of the dam. The longer the snow pack remains in the mountain peaks, the later the lake is brought closer to full pool.
Another factor is the annual water dump required to protect sturgeon fish on the U.S. side. The dump lowers the lake level temporarily and is required as the result of legal charges under the Endangered Species Act. Further, the lake level will be dropped to 2449 feet in late August for fish habitat work in September and October.
The Columbia River Treaty can be ended in 2024 at the earliest with 10 years notice by either side. The B.C. Government is leading a review of the Treaty. Public consultation workshops are planned for later this month in Jaffray (May 29), Creston (May 30), and other communities in June. For more information see www.gov.bc.ca/Columbia RiverTreaty.
B.C. Hydro’s Diane Tammen (Community Relations Manager, East Kootenay) and Sally Masters (donations and scholarships) gave updates on other items. The Smart Meter Initiative will be completed province wide this year. Also, B.C. Hydro will spend $6 billion over three years to improve and expand the electrical system. Finally, the April 1, 2012 interim electrical rate increase of 3.91 percent resulted in an increase of about $5.40 per month for residential customers. This brings the average residential rate to $83 a month. By comparison, the average residential rate for Calgary is $175.