JENNIFER GOSSOO, Merritt News, July 19,2010
Concern over endangered steelhead trout
Development could be underway next year to transfer Nicola lake water to a reservoir in the Okanagan should the BCUC grant FortisBC's water license application.
FortisBC's Nicola Lake hydro project is waiting for consent from the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Last year, the Kelowna-based company submitted a resource plan to the BCUC for the development of a hydro project in Nicola Lake, which is expected to be appraised next year. Pumped storage hydro is a high-voltage system requiring 770 megawatts of power to pump water from our Nicola Lake to a reservoir in the Okanagan.
The Nicola (and it's sister river, the Coldwater) have been on the Outdoor Recreation Council's Endangered Rivers list multiple times. The water in Nicola Lake is all that has sustained salmon in August for five of the last six years. The government even passed an Order in Council to restrict summer withdrawals for irrigation, in the interests of habitat preservation. (link)
Doing anything in Nicola Lake needs to be approached with the greatest care and with the precautionary principle uppermost. Fortis is proposing to pump water to a reservoir it will create above Nicola Lake, hold it in place with a 39 metre dam. It will be designed to draw energy from the grid at a rate of 385 MWh/h up to 770 MWh/h over an 8 to 16 hour period every day - this will be the pumping phase. Then over 8 hours it will generate 770 MWh/h as the water is released back into Nicola Lake. The net displacement of water in Nicola Lake over a 24 hour period will generally be zero. The net energy flow will be negative, however - more energy will be used in pumping the water up to the reservoir than is generated when it falls back down again. The daily drawdown and recharge in Nicola Lake is calculated to be 14cm.
The Water Stewardship Branch has on file application Z12495 for an unspecified volume of storage in/from Nicola like, filed on 29 July 2009, and ILMB has on file application #3412121 filed on 19 August 2009. The project description is here. (link)
If the BCUC accepts the resource plan of which this project is a part, then Fortis will begin environmental studies and presumably file a project description with the Environmental Assessment Office.
My knees jerk predictably with energy proposals, but this sounds intriguing. I am curious to hear comments.
Think of it as a closed-containment run-of-river project, if you can get your head around that notion.
Projects of these proportions are unheard of in the Interior. They are more common in countries such as China, Japan, and the US.
It works by moving water through underground pipes uphill. The only dilemma is that it will require more energy to move the water uphill than can be generated when it is released.
The project would divert 119 cubic metres of water per second through two 700 metre tunnels leading to a pump station/power house and a 3,000 metre tunnel to a submerged portal in a newly created upper reservoir, a 39 metre high dam. An 18 km transmission line would connect the project to a BC Hydro station.
The reason for this? To serve 157,000 customers in the Okanagan. But is it worth it? If the BCUC passes consent on the project, Nicola Lake will see a 14 cm decrease in water height. The lake is Merritt's primary water resource, and home to a bounty of endangered steelhead trout. One of the more pressing concerns associated with this new development is its effect on the trout population.
Bill Otway, a Merritt resident and member of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, admits that our valley is already witnessing water-supply issues, and that if water is to be pumped out of our lake 4 to 20 times as fast as the river outflow, it could potentially harm the aquatic life that resides within.
“We have water problems, major water problems for the Nicola River producing fish, and our aquifer is going to hell up here.”