Kinbasket levels might exceed normal full pool

By Andru McCracken

A lack of demand for electricity is straining BC Hydro operations and will likely mean Kinbasket Reservoir, just south of Valemount, will be filled up this year. BC Hydro is attributing the drop in electricity use to COVID-19. Power use is about 10% lower than usual. They believe demand could slump to 12% lower than usual by April 2021.

That makes for some logistical challenges on a system that generates electricity from hydroelectric dams.

At the same time demand is dropping, snow is melting, reservoir levels are rising, and run-of-river power producers (like Hystad Creek in Valemount and Castle Mountain Hydro in McBride) are producing at full capacity.

There is more water than then there are places to put it.

So far, BC Hydro has started shutting down its smaller generation facilities and are spilling water at two facilities, Revelstoke dam and Seven Mile dam near Trail.

They will also try to sell power to other provinces and the United States.

As far as Kinbasket Reservoir goes, BC Hydro has already applied to the Comptroller of Water Rights to raise the water level up to a foot (or 0.3 metres) above normal full pool as a contingency.

Aquino said high inflows, reduced loads and high reservoir levels may call for bringing the reservoir up to levels last seen in 2012.

“The historical highest level for the Kinbasket Reservoir was about 754.7 metres in 2012, which was one of the wettest years on record,” said Kevin Aquino, a spokesperson for BC Hydro.

Local Independent Power Producers who operate run-of-river hydro systems have been given notice that BC Hydro could invoke provisions to reduce the amount of power they will buy.

Aquino said affordability is a key priority for BC Hydro’s customers, but they are currently focussed on the safety environmental and operational impacts caused by the pandemic.

“It is still too early to know if this situation will have an impact on rates,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an extraordinary situation with our system that we’re working to address,” said Chris O’Riley, BC Hydro President and CEO. “We’re confident that through these measures, we’ll be able to avoid the public safety and environmental risks that would be created by excessive spilling at our facilities.”

Whatever the case, Valemount won’t be put at risk from excessive spilling: the closest dam is more than 100 km away, downstream.

Bringing the reservoir up to a historic high could cause some inconvenience to local recreationalists though.

Valemount Mayor Owen Torgerson said higher levels could result in more woody debris entering the reservoir. Woody debris is a hazard for recreational boaters on the reservoir.