Common Sense Canadian

BC’s private run-of-river power projects a ‘horror show’, documents reveal

PostedJanuary 29, 2014 by in Western Canada
Private river power projects a 'horror show', documents reveal

A map of private power projects – proposed, under construction and in operation around BC (

Read this Jan. 29 Province story on the appalling government mismanagement of private river power projects in BC, only a quarter of which are operating at a satisfactory environmental standard.

The majority of run-of-the-river power projects in B.C.’s South Coast region are not being operated in a satisfactory environmental manner, according to Freedom of Information documents provided to The Province.

“We were told these things were going to be green, we were told they were going to be the next-best thing since sliced bread,” said Marvin Rosenau, who worked as a freshwater biologist in the Ministry of Environment in the 1990s and 2000s and now is a fisheries instructor at BCIT.

“And the reality is that it’s a bit of a mess right now. Some of them are just absolutely horror shows.”

For years, environmentalists have been raising alarms about these hydroelectric power projects, which divert river water flows through turbines to generate power.

The main fear is the impact they have on fish, both upstream and downstream.

Details of the ongoing problems are highlighted by internal government documents recently obtained by the Wilderness Committee through a Freedom of Information request and reviewed by The Province.

The documents come from a July 2012 government workshop held at the Environmental Assessment Office in Victoria. The workshop was aimed at tidying up an industry that has had highly publicized issues with non-compliance.

According to the workshop documents, at that time only four of 22 run-of-river projects in the South Coast region had satisfactory operational parameters and procedures in place.



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Common Sense Canadian



    Finding the truth when government goes rogue is difficult, and may the sleuthing of Damien Gillis prevail, and the wake-up call from Louise Taylor above. Here on North Vancouver Island, the IPP under BC Hydro continues like a madman on steroids- it cited over 80 new power projects for the Vancouver Island north-coast Cape Scott region this year–and with this goes their Pest Management Program that will use 22 different pesticides including DDT, and which will be repeated yearly for 5 years, on all their roads and inroads across the region. Considering the monetary cost of this monstrous boondoggle that is BC Hydro, the spraying of poisons should be the last straw. I have mourned for some time the disappearance of songbirds that used to be plentiful here on northern Vancouver Island, and I suspect the reason is this poisoning of their food. Where I live the forest is right out the window, and from spring to fall there used to be birds with us all summer– Thrushes hopping through the fallen leaves, or singing their lovely spiraling songs from within the forest; Wrens that used to hop through the Honeysuckle, or search the eves for spiders, and whose bubbling sweet song was sent to the four winds as it turned round and round as it sang and sang its heart out; Pine Siskins, little birds that flocked to forest and field seeking bugs and dandelion seeds, but come no more; Oregon Robins, those beautiful dusky birds with blazing orange breast with a black ring on its throat, shy but beautiful, and whose songs rose from within the forest in a sweet mournful duet of exchanging high and low notes–gone from our experience. And these birds of brush and forest are partial to berries of every kind, especially Salmonberries, which are part and parcel of every watercourse and river everywhere on the Island. So it is not surprising our birds are disappearing, as hundreds of inroads, and service roads to inroads, are sprayed with liquid that is death to the wild. And I add my heartfelt damnation to the modus-operandi of BC Hydro, whose presence and actions do nothing but harm to wildlife, society and the environment, and with a heedlessness that is appalling. (Editor note–just realized this topic that showed up on my screen today is more than 2 years old!) but likely more applicable than ever.

    G. Barry Stewart

    Paul Kariya might be able to answer a question that has been haunting me for a few years. I thought that I had read somewhere that all run-of-river facilities — by provincial contract (if not on First Nations lands) — have an expiry date, after which they are turned over to the province.

    True or false?


    Check out our report entitled Hydro Impacts 101 – The Tradeoffs, to find out about the numerous impacts of dams and reservoirs, not just on our fisheries, but also its significant contribution to climate change. You can find the report here:

    BC’s definition of run-of-river is far from green – holding water back from its natural flow for up to 48 hours is a big part of the problem.

    Mary Russell

    Sad, woeful, overwhelming, the current vision of the BC Liberals that is mated to the Conservative national agenda to change Canada into an industrial oil giant that will doom the curbing of unstoppable global warming, and will turn this once fair country into an industrial slum, and our wild salmon deliberately sent into darkness to expedite the massive expansion and monetary gain of corporate powers that in turn suckle the federal government with huge sums that increases its power no less, but does great ill to the people, the land, rivers, ocean and wildlife; in sum, a state of rule that will leave Canadians bereft of their natural self-sustaining blessings of forests, fish and wildlife of all description. That BC’s oversight of ROR projects is not protecting salmon, proves its approval of their demise, and that Premier Christy Clark tabled Bill-C37 that would punish public reporting of diseases in the fish farming regimes in our waters with $75,000 fines and 2 years in jail, shows the Province does not want these viral diseases to be public knowledge and controlled. That DFO is now about to allow massive expansion of the farms in the face of Justice Cohen’s stern recommendations that the Precautionary Principle be applied, and that no new licences or increased production be allowed in the Discovery Islands period, and that elsewhere, if serious diseases are surfacing, (as they irrefutably are, with ISAv, and 3 other dangerous viruses now infecting our wild salmon far and wide)the industry should be removed, period. This is only common-sense, given the disease and displacement factor being visited on our wild resource. The factory farming of carnivorous species that consume 2-3x the food fish of other species to make 1x of farmed product is inherently unsustainable, and as well the fish are loaded with pesticides and toxi pue of sea lice explosions grown immune to them and especially to Slice, a neurotoxin banned for use in water or on human food before Health Canada allowed it on demand by the farms, where it is now approved without even a withdrawal time previously imposed between treatment and harvest of their fish. Slice used to control sea lice is also toxic to other u–__staceans including lobster, prawn, shrimp and crab, and under current regimes the toxicity of farmed fish will only increase. Unless they are confined to land based systems proven successful in other countries under new tech using very little water that is recycled to be 99%e. The Writing is on the Wall–our wild salmon will not survive expansion of the farms, and as the patient and good Chief Bob Chamberlin implores– (as does the courageous, intelligent, enduring, and knowledgeable Doctor Alexandra Morton, without whose courage and perspicacity we would still be unaware of what is being done to our wild salmon heritage) we the people are all that can turn this nightmare away, and we must all, white and brown together, link arms in a moral force that will sweep these destructive farms out our ocean where they absolutely do not belong. And time is short for the remedy, for every day that the farms remain in our ocean, risks the sparking of a new and virulent strain of disease in the crowded factory farms, as happened in Chile and is still raising Cain there, with the industry’s response being merely to move to another coastline to destroy. It is not inappropriate to associate government’s mismanagement and public inaction with a wise man’s apprehension, “A special kind of hell is reserved for those who maintain neutrality in times of crisis”. Please every one who values our glorious wild salmon heritage, stand up for them and stand up strong!


    I,d be interested to know the story of the the run-of-the-river project at Muchalat Lake in Gold River, British Columbia. It,s a project that has been abandoned.

    I,ve searched for information on this and can find nothing. I emailed Rafe Mair about this and he replied he had no information on this. This is a run-of-the-river project which would have incurred a major expense and looks to be a major boondoggle by B.C. Hydro that is being kept out of the public eye.

    I may be wrong on my perception of this Muchalat Lake run-of-the-river project, but i,m very suspicious of the lack of information.

      Craig Williams

      I have never heard of a proposed project on Muchalat Lake. There is a operating project on Mears Creek which flows into Muchalat Lake.

    Gwen Barlee

    I will be very interested to see what specific changes were made to deficient/substandard operating parameters and procedures (OPPs) at IPPs in the South Coast Region to suddenly, and almost magically, make 18 of those OPPs “satisfactory.”

    Of particular interest will be changes made to ramping procedures and ramping guidelines, mitigation, reporting, flow monitoring, data collection, intake and diversion rates, consistency in EA conditions (for those that have them) etc in these OPPs.

    BC Government documents, obtained by the Wilderness Committee, showed in 2012 only 4 out of the 22 operating projects in the South Coast had “satisfactory” OPPs. FLNRO said just weeks ago that number had now crept to 6 South Coast IPPs with “satisfactory” OPPs – an incremental improvement.

    But now FLNRO is saying the number is much higher – interesting timing.

    Perhaps the BC government changed the definition of “satisfactory.”


    Neither article talked about the crippling $50 billion cost of IPP power to BC Hydro, for power that is apparently not needed.


    The independence of the PSF report is even murkier given that Paul Kariya who used to head the PSF now heads Clean Energy BC.

    Studies in Norway show that hydropower has caused the most harm to their wild salmon (more so than other human- caused factors, including fish farms, toxic chemicals, etc.) and has caused the extinction of 19 salmon species. (North American Salmon Conservation Organization. 2009. Protection, Restoration and
    Enhancement of Salmon Habitat – Focus Area Report, Norway. IP(09)11)

      Paul Kariya

      Louise and Damien

      I am proud to have worked for Pacific Salmon Foundation for 6+ years. It is Canada’s preeminent wild salmon organization — driven by science and stewardship. PSF is led by one of Canada’s best salmon scientists in Dr Brian Riddell.

      PSF is the natural place to go to if you have any questions about salmon survival, population dynamics and ecosystems on the west coast (perhaps not Norway as you indicate Louise). I encourage you both to contact Dr Riddell — ask him your questions about the independent study he led. Ask him if I had any influence on the study scope or direction? I did ask PSF to lead the study after considering possible alternatives (ie a science team from a local university — but those folk all indicated PSF was probably best suited to lead this type of independent study).

      From you comments I don’t think you have had the time to read the report — in the appendix, included is a report by an independent peer review science team who reviewed the methodology — their unedited report is carried in full. Please look at the names and affiliations of the scientisist who participated.

      Damien – note that one of the most significant funders of ENGOs, the Moore Foundation was teh largest funder of the study. Industry contributed under 1/3rd. Paul

        Damien Gillis

        I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Riddell and for the Moore Foundation – which has also funded my own work on the impacts of industrial open-net pen salmon farms on our wild salmon and marine ecosystems. That said, Paul, the involvement of your lobby in the study absolutely demands a high degree of skepticism.

        I also hold the opinion of Dr. Marvin Rosenau in high esteem and I note, as I have here before, that the above story deals with the woeful regulatory and enforcement regime with regards to your industry’s projects, which are also represent an undemocratic financial scam foisted on BC Hydro ratepayers and taxpayers.

        Finally, I note the parochial scope of this study, which fails to take into account the broader ecological footprint of these projects – including the thousands of kilometers of large-scale industrial roads and transmission corridors.

        This is the sort of perspective that has been sorely lacking from this whole private power regime, which has failed to demonstrate one iota of net carbon reductions contrasted with the incredible ecological and carbon consequences of logging significant tracts of BC’s forests for these projects.

        It has always been and remains an utter farce to call this “clean energy”.


        I have taken the time to read most of the report. It was interesting to read that the scientists reviewing the report concluded, inter alia: “1) Most facilities are situated such that salmonid populations are potentially exposed to project-related impacts; 2) In most cases the effects of the project on salmonid abundance cannot be assessed because there are no data, or monitoring data are deficient in some way.” They also criticized the narrow focus of the study. In addition, they felt it was useful to learn from mistakes made in other countries, like Norway.

        The California Energy Commission clearly thinks that BC’s run-of-river projects are not gree, clean or sustainable. On 15 January 2014, the Commission announced that BC Hydro run-of-river power does not meet California’s stringent renewable energy standards. The Commission rejected BC Hydro run-of-river power, because it explicitly recognized that “any new or repowered run-of-river hydroelectric project in B.C. is likely to result in a change in the volume or timing of streamflow,” and therefore “may cause an adverse impact on instream beneficial uses …” BC Hydro run-of-river power was also rejected because B.C.’s weak environmental laws are deemed inadequate in comparison to those applicable in California.

        The BC government should pull the plug on these projects for environmental and economic reasons..

    Steve Cooley

    Apologies if this is a double post. I started and it disappeared.

    This is the headline and first paragraph of an article on CBC/BC right now, Jan 30, 08:00. Someon has cooked the books, either at CBC or at Common Sense.

    Risk to B.C. salmon ‘minimal’ from run-of-river projects

    An independent review of B.C.’s run-of-river projects has tentatively concluded that most of the hydro plants have had no impact on salmon species in the rivers used to generate electricity.

      Damien Gillis

      Different reports, Steve. One (referenced above) is not a report at all – rather internal government documents obtained via Freedom of Information request which paint, I would argue, a far more accurate picture of the overall ecological consequences and lack of regulatory oversight of these projects.

      The report you’re referring to was paid for by the private power lobby, euphemistically branded as “Clean Energy BC” – and the CBC story notes the results are “inconclusive”:

      Let me say I wouldn’t be shocked if the timing of its release in relation to the front page Province story excerpted above is not a coincidence 😉

        Paul Kariya


        I would re-check with FLNRO about the accuracy of the FOI report that Gwen Barlee, Dr Marvin Ronsenau, you and a few others are trying to leverage. As I understand it FLNRO is working on a retraction — the information their spokesperson gave the Province was wrong. Most of the facilities are operating in compliance


          Damien Gillis

          Paul, this is hardly the first time we’ve heard of serious environmental violations – with no real enforcement action. In 2010, we learned of a staggering 749 environmental infractions in the same group of south coast private river power projects. This despite the woeful lack of boots on the ground monitoring these projects.

          Rather than taking your word for it, I’ll wait for FLNRO’s retraction – and even then, I’ll maintain a healthy skepticism, given the extraordinary political pressure BC’s ministries, regulators and crown corporations are subjected to under the auspices of the BC Liberal private power policy.

          This is a government that has stripped our independent energy regulator, the BCUC, of oversight over virtually all the key issues in its bailiwick – this so-called “clean energy” policy, Site C Dam, and the billion-dollar smart meter program.

          You’re asking a great deal of trust in our public institutions where the historical record suggests none is warranted.

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