Low water levels in Alouette Lake are threatening to leave salmon smolts high and dry, and the Alouette River Management Society is pointing the finger at B.C. Hydro.
Hydro controls the water level with its Alouette Dam, and water levels were left too low for too long, said ARMS president Cheryl Ashlie.
She fears the result could be that thousands of kokanee smolts are lost.
Smolts are salmon that have reached that stage in their life cycle when they are ready to leave freshwater rivers and lakes and go to sea.
Ashlie explained that when this year’s smolts hear nature’s call to begin their first migration, they may not be able to make the trip due to current low water levels.
They will need to get past the dam through a spillway in it, but the water level could be too low to get through, she said.
She worries there is not enough time to bring the water level high enough.
Ashlie acknowledged Hydro is permitted to bring the water level as low as it did. But Hydro did not bring the water levels up quickly enough to meet the April 15 target, she added.
She said Wednesday that phytoplankton, zooplankton and other primary lifeforms in the reservoir are dying as its bottom is exposed and drying out.
Hydro said the low water levels relate to the demand for electricity, and dry weather.
“High electricity demand due to record cold temperatures in February and a dry February and March has resulted in low water levels at many of our reservoirs, including Stave and Alouette,” said Kevin Aquino, with Hydro.
“This affected how we are operating at many of our coastal facilities this spring.
March brought the lowest rainfall in a decade.
According to Environment Canada records for the Pitt Meadows weather station, there was 42.9 mm of rainfall for the month.
That compares to 147 mm in March 2018, which was a dry year.
There was not less than 210 mm in the month of March for any of the five years previous. The lowest level in a decade was 119mm in 2010.
The dry month this year exposed the banks of the Alouette to old railway tracks and stumps of trees cut prior to the establishment of the reservoir.
“Ensuring fish flows is a priority when we make water management decisions. We have committed to minimum flows, which were established during the water use planning process with input from Alouette River Management Society, First Nations, and other stakeholders,” said Aquino.
“Minimum fish flow releases to the South Alouette River have been maintained and will continue to be released. We’ll continue to monitor inflows and water levels closely, which are expected to improve in the next week with increased precipitation and the onset of the spring freshet.”
The water level was 118.75m elevation at of Thursday, April 18, but was supposed to be at 121.85 m as of April 15.
Normal water levels are between 112.6m and 125.5m.
ARMS is working to restore salmon species to the Alouette water system, and Ashlie said the question remains whether this year’s run can be re-established.