Nechako River needs Water Use Plan, council says

Vanderhoof may avoid future flooding if the Nechako Reservoir gets a water use plan like other reservoirs in B.C., says district council.

Taken on June 24 by resident Paul Collard

Vivian ChuiOmineca Express

 

Vanderhoof may avoid future flooding if the Nechako Reservoir gets a water use plan —just like other reservoirs in B.C., says the district council.

The District of Vanderhoof is currently approaching the provincial government and Rio Tinto Alcan, the reservoir’s operator, to establish a water use plan that would include input from the local community.

“Most, if not all, other reservoirs that are dammed up or created for the hydroelectricity, have a water use plan,” said Tom Clement, the District’s Chief Administrative Officer. “Right now the only thing that Alcan is asked to do is protect the salmon and they have to create the power.”

Having a water use plan will include public safety as a consideration, Clement added.

“We want them to take care of the river, take people into consideration when they’re doing the water flows,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Environment, B.C.‘s provincial government has been developing Water Use Plans for water control structures in the last decade to address a growing concern in fish resources and their relationship with flood protection and other water uses.

Twenty-three of B.C. Hydro’s facilities currently have implemented Water Use Plans — with one in the works for the Cleveland and Seymour dams — in consultation with water licensees, government agencies, First Nations, and the general public to address interests at stake.

For Mayor Gerry Thiessen, the recent 40-day flooding in May is a concern to the community for the future.

“Right now the reservoir is 6.5 feet higher than it was a year ago, snow fall was average and we flooded for 40 days,” Thiessen said. “That’s why we are, as aggressively as possible, working with every level of government and Rio Tinto Alcan to find a solution here.”

He added, “For the last four to five years we have been asking for it.”

Wayne Salewski, chair of the Nechako Environment and Watershed Stewardship Society, said the water use plan is 50 years overdue.

“I think the water use plan is something that wasn’t required in the ’40s and ’50s because it was not a thought or issue in those days in industry and economic wealth,” Salewski said.

“It’s important that the government recognizes that we live here, we help generate the wealth in this province,” he added. “It’s not just Vanderhoof, it’s everybody from Kenney Dam to Prince George, that pays the price for this.”

Kevin Dobbin, Rio Tinto Alcan’s manager of communities and media in B.C. operations, said that the company is hoping to have a meeting with the District of Vanderhoof as soon as possible to develop process, get input, and ensure stakeholders get a chance to engage in the plan development.

“Rio Tinto has been working to develop a water management plan for a number of years and we have suggested that we work together with the District of Vanderhoof and all other stakeholders in developing that plan,” Dobbin said.

He added that the company is proactively and voluntarily engaging in a water management process, which will respect the company’s existing water license rights and obligations for flow allocation to the Nechako River and Fisheries conservation targets.

However, the company cannot predict the outcome of a water management planning process and in what ways it could be possible to further enhance the benefits of Reservoir and flow management, Dobbin said.

“Rio Tinto uses sixty years of data as one input to forecast reservoir levels and spill requirements, but weather can be very unpredictable,” he said. “We also use updated weather forecasts and real time measurement of reservoir inflows and snow pack.”

“We also want to have a ‘lessons learned’ session to discuss the impacts of the flows that occurred this spring,” he said. “The public will also be consulted about how to structure an engagement process.”