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Independent review of run-of-river hydro projects in British Columbia and their potential impacts on salmonid species- an update

Courtesy of J. Armstrong/University of Washington
Pacific Salmon Foundation October 29, 2013

In October 2012, Clean Energy BC (CEBC) approached the Pacific Salmon Foundation to commission an independent, scientific review of run-of-river hydroelectric projects, with a specific focus on their potential impacts on salmonids. Given its mandate around the conservation and restoration of wild Pacific salmon in British Columbia and its scientific expertise, the Pacific Salmon Foundation agreed to lead such a study. This paper will provide an update on how the study is being done.

The focus of the study was 44 stream-based run-of-river facilities out of a total of 52 facilities currently operating in British Columbia. The study relied primarily on monitoring reports and information provided by run-of-river operators. The review was not a compliance audit about water flows or report submissions. Two reports have already evaluated compliance of run-of-river facilities with their water licenses and Fish Act Authorizations.

It is important to point out that this is the first study of its kind in British Columbia and one of very few done anywhere. Taking a scientific approach to assessing the impacts on salmonids is one that other jurisdictions should be able to learn from and hopefully emulate.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation has been responsible for the overall leadership and management of the study. To assist in the gathering and assessment of data, the Pacific Salmon Foundation hired ESSA Technologies, a local consulting firm with significant background in environmental assessments. CEBC supported the project by coordinating participation from its members who own and operate run-of-facilities across British Columbia. The provincial and federal governments also supported the study through staff participation and access to information sources. The total budget for the study was $330,000, with funding from CEBC (30%); the Living Rivers Trust (25%), which is a provincially-funded partnership that addresses critical issues facing B.C. watersheds and fish populations; and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (45%).

A Project Advisory Committee (PAC) was also created to provide an open and transparent review of the process. Representatives from universities, environmental non-profits, industry and the federal government participated in the committee. The committee has met three times to date to receive updates on methodology and findings, and will meet again prior to submission of the final report. 
 
Methodology
The study looked at the potential impacts on salmonids through a series of questions: 

a) Are run-of-river hydro projects negatively impacting salmonids? If “yes”:

i)    Where is this occurring?
ii)   What aspects of operations are problematic?
iii)  What is the impact? Does it involve direct mortality, life cycle impairment, or effects on ecological functions?
iv)  Are there more problematic periods of time – seasons of the year, times of operation?

b) What are the fish mitigation and compensating features of run-of-river hydro projects?

c) Can changes with a run-of-river project be isolated from other landscape impacts and/or the accumulated effects of other developments?

Science Panel 
After the initial analysis of a few facilities, the methodology proposed by ESSA Technologies was assessed by a panel of expert scientists that reviewed the appropriateness of the methodology, whether it was applied in a scientifically defensive way, whether the conclusions were justified based on the information sources, and if there were recommended improvements. The science panel validated the methodology and provided suggestions for improving the methodology for future studies. Following receipt of this advice, the analyses were undertaken.
 
Information Sources
The team from ESSA has used a number of information sources in conducting its work. The most significant ones were the run-of-river facilities themselves, which included projects from all three “eras” of independent power project (IPP) activity in B.C.: Early (pre-1989), Transition (2000 – 2003), and Modern (2006 onward). A significant benefit of looking at this range of projects is that ESSA has been able to document how the industry has evolved over the past 20+ years.

ESSA accessed other sources as well, including staff and information from the Province of B.C. (through the regulatory agencies and provincial data centres) and the Government of Canada (through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans). ESSA also conducted an exhaustive literature search and review to determine what academic and field information might be applicable for use. Finally, members of the PAC were able to provide their feedback at the various stages of the study.
 
Next Steps
The Pacific Salmon Foundation and ESSA are currently in the process of documenting the results of the study and finalizing its recommendations. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and ESSA expect to submit to CEBC its final report and recommendations before the end of 2013.

The final report will include a set of recommendations based on findings of the study. Based on work to date, recommendations are expected to focus on the following areas:

  • Monitoring requirements and responses of run-of-river projects;
  • Strategies to detect impacts on salmonids;
  • Simulation modeling tools to design monitoring protocols and examine pathways of effects at specific facilities; and
  • Centralized data processing, databases, and on-going assessments.

Contact:
Michael Meneer
(604) 664-7664
mmeneer@psf.ca

Related Link: http://www.psf.ca/programs/independent-review-run-of-river-hydro-projects/independent-review-of-run-of-river-hydro-projects-in-bc-and-their-potential-impacts-on-salmonid-species--an-update