Hydropower in BC
In addition to being the lifeblood of BC’s vast natural wealth, our rivers and streams supply the vast majority of our electricity. Most of this hydropower comes from large dams constructed in the 1940s-1970s on the Columbia, Peace, and Nechako Rivers. While these large dams now produce a tremendous amount of renewable, low-carbon electricity, the ecological cost of constructing them was equally large.
In 2002 BC’s provincial government released the Clean Energy Plan, triggering a gold rush on BC’s rivers by encouraging private corporations to stake claims for new hydroelectric power projects. More than 800 rivers and creeks have now been staked by private developers, with over 80 new projects now approved, under construction, or operational, and dozens more well into the permitting process (see Private Power Watch for a detailed map). BC’s Clean Energy Act (2010) makes it clear that much of the new electricity produced through these projects will be for export. While some proposals call for large dams, like Site C on the Peace River, the majority of these projects are river diversions, also known as “run-of-river.”
Global climate change poses a grave threat to our planet, and humanity must reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially and immediately. Along with dramatic energy conservation, replacing dirty energy with renewable energy is part of the solution. But without careful planning, hydropower development can easily do more harm than good. Nearly a decade after unleashing BC’s liquid gold rush, the provincial government has not established a credible process to decide which projects pose the least risk to sensitive fish and wildlife species and their habitats, and to give communities a say in where development should and should not take place.
Watershed Watch is pushing back on behalf of BC’s wild rivers and the people who care about them by demanding a democratic, transparent, ecosystem-based approach to planning energy development; by educating the public on the benefits and risks of hydropower development; and by sounding the alarm (see HydrowatchBC.ca) when inappropriate hydropower projects are proposed.
You can learn more about salmon and water issues using Watershed Watch’s Fraser Basin LiveMap: An Interactive Salmon and Water Atlas. This web-based tool allows users to explore Fraser waterways and salmon populations, the threats they face, and their current status and future prospects. The LiveMap includes official government data sets on historic water flows, salmon returns, water temperature, and other important factors that affect the aquatic ecosystems that make up the Fraser River watershed.