By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

B.C. Hydro recently released its Columbia River operations summary report for the past year. The report gives an update on the organization’s activities along the Columbia River.

The Columbia River is the fourth largest river in North America, and the many dams along its main steam, along with others on its tributaries, produce more hydroelectricity than any other river system in North America. Construction of these dams began more than fifty years ago, and stopped runs of salmon from the Pacific reaching the upper parts of the river systems. Although the Canadian headwaters of the Columbia (which begins near Canal Flats, flows north through Columbia Lake, by Fairmont Hot Springs, through Lake Windermere, through the Columbia River wetlands past Radium, Edgewater and other local communities on route to the ocean) account for only 15 per cent of the Columbia River Basin’s total area. The terrain in this part of the basin is mountainous, with considerable winter snowpack, and consequently, this area is the source of more than a third of the entire river system’s runoff.

The report outlines that renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, the international agreement that governs the Columbia dams and reservoirs, began in spring 2018 and that negotiations session has been ongoing every two months since.

“Snowpack in the Columbia Basin this year was above normal due to cold and wet conditions for much of the operating year. This resulted in above normal runoff forecast of 104 per cent for the entire Columbia Basin between April and September 2020 and 108 per cent of normal for the Canadian portion of the basin. By comparison, the overall runoff in the Columbia basin in 2019 was only 87 per cent of normal,” read the report.

The report gave a detailed breakdown of each of the major reservoirs in the Canadian part of the Columbia Basin. The closest of these to the Columbia Valley is the Kinbasket Reservoir, just north of Golden.

The minimum water level reached in Kinbasket in 2020 was 720.12 metres (2,362.6 feet) on Apr. 20; about 5.30 metres (17.4 feet) higher than the minimum level in 2019. From February to August 2020, reservoir inflows were about 110 per cent of average.

“Due to high inflows and a reduced demand for electricity due to COVID-19, the reservoir refilled to reach a maximum level of 754.44 metres (2,475.2 feet) on Aug. 23… Similar high water levels were observed in 2012 and 2013 during high runoff conditions,” read the report, noting that this maximum water level for 2020 was about 8.29 metres (27.2 feet) higher than the highest level in 2019.