BC Hydro expects a “challenging” summer

Last summer’s province-wide drought and this winter’s low snowpack may make for a difficult summer in the Upper Columbia Basin, BC Hydro representatives say. Engineers, managers, and public relations employees of the corporation held an online meeting with residents of the Columbia Basin last week to discuss how Hydro’s operations in the area may be impacted by drought conditions this summer.

“The bottom line is, we are in a drought. In large part, our BC Hydro reservoirs rely on nature to fill up,” said Southern Interior Community Relations Manager Dag Sharman. “It looks like another challenging year and it could be similar to last summer, but it’s too early to know for certain.”

Sharman invited residents to contact Hydro’s Community Relations team with any concerns, and to sign up for weekly Upper Columbia reservoir level forecasts through the “Columbia” page on bchydro.com.

Sharman’s comments were followed by a presentation from Darren Sherbot, Manager of System Optimization.

According to Sherbot, in a typical year around 70 per cent of the Columbia system’s inflow comes from melting snow – rain comprises another 20 per cent, and just 10 per cent comes from glacier melt. Given the low snowpack this year, that ratio may change, and it’s possible the system will receive enough rain to support Hydro’s operations throughout the summer.

“We already know, at the beginning of May, that it’s going to be a challenging year for the Columbia system,” said Sherbot. “But what drove the drought last year was the lack of precipitation that subsequently occurred across July, August, September, October.”

Together, the Columbia and Peace systems make up about 55 per cent of the province’s energy, according to Sherbot. In past years, when one of these systems had low reservoir levels, Hydro could rely on the other to supplement it.

“Last year, we didn’t have that flexibility because we were in a province-wide drought. This year is shaping up (similarly) with the snowpack being low in all basins,” Sherbot said. “In times of low inflow last year … we ended up importing almost one fifth of our generation.”

This year, Columbia Basin reservoirs are sitting at average levels – at this time last year, they were below average, Sherbot added.

“It’s only because of the power purchases that we had across last year that enabled us to hit average levels, which in terms of planning puts us in a better position to deal with what looks to be another dry year,” Sherbot said.

BC Hydro will be having another operations update in June, said Upper Columbia Stakeholder Engagement Advisor Susan Edgell.

“We’re doing what we can to manage the system under these (dry) conditions, but we are anticipating that our reservoirs will be low again this year,” Edgell said. “So throughout this period, we’ll continue to provide you with updates so that you have the information you need when you need it – hence the reason we’ll be having more of these meetings in June."

Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat