Read this story from the Vancouver Sun's Larry Pynn on a long list of environmental incidents relating to private river power projects in southwest BC - unearthed through a recent freedom of information search by the Wilderness Committee. (Jan. 23, 2013)
The independent run-of-river power sector is in regulatory disarray, following inconsistent rules designed to protect fish and with provincial officials hard pressed to crack down due to lack of staff and resources, freedom-of-information documents show.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations states in a staff report approved by Julia Berardinucci, director of resource management in Surrey, there were 749 non-compliance incidents from a total of 16 hydro plants in southwest B.C. in 2010.
They included 313 incidents related to ramping (fluctuating water levels), 292 to not notifying government official of problems, 101 to not fulfilling mitigation requirements, and 43 to not maintaining in-stream flow rates.
Flow rates ensure there is sufficient water for fish downstream of power plants, while ramping rates (typically associated with the shutdown of a power plant for maintenance or an unanticipated failure) ensure water levels fluctuate gradually to not strand young fish.
“There has been a lack of resources (staff, database tools) … to track/monitor compliance at various facilities,” ministry engineering assistant Charlene Menezes writes in a freedom-of-information document dated March 29, 2012.
“Ultimately, there is limited compliance and enforcement of the water use obligations.”
Menezes’ report recommends, in part, a compliance monitoring program and a database to track incidents of non-compliance.
Gwen Barlee, the Wilderness Committee policy director who obtained the documents, said in an interview Tuesday that the documents confirm that the run-of-river sector “does not have proper oversight and can’t even meet low environmental standards.”
She described the 749 incidents of non-compliance as “mind boggling” and noted, for example, that non-compliance at the Furry Creek hydro plant near Squamish continued for 2.5 months but was reported as just one incident.
“This is the result of a government that has backed off enforcement … and the ability of government employees to regulate industry,” she said.
Paul Kariya, executive-director of Clean Energy B.C., which represents run-of-river projects, said the industry “is trying to do better … and where we can improve — and we’re always in a learning mode — yes, we’re all for it.”