Ken Stewart, president of the Alouette River Management Society, is worried about snow melt mixed with rain along the river. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Ken Stewart, president of the Alouette River Management Society, is worried about snow melt mixed with rain along the river. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Concerns over safety of Maple Ridge dam arise as new storm systems hit

Residents below Alouette dam want better alert system than Facebook

Two more storms are about to hit the West Coast, prompting concerns about the safety of water levels at the Alouette Dam, and how residents below the dam are to be alerted if there is an emergency.

Glenn Hurst, who lives on Dogwood Avenue and whose property backs onto the river, has been watching the levels in the river for many years.

An upset Hurst claims BC Hydro has mismanaged water levels at the dam, especially since the last storm system hit the province Nov. 15 causing massive flooding in Abbotsford and in other regions across the province.

Hurst is accusing BC Hydro of holding onto water in the dam for profit, and not taking precautions when it know ahead of time a weather system is going to hit. And, he said, neither he nor his neighbours were warned of any possible breach of the dam.

“I want to know why Hydro is not held more accountable,” said Hurst.

A spokesperson for BC Hydro said the company has no concerns about how its system was operated before, during, and after the last atmospheric river event. The system worked as it was designed – to help minimize the impact of high inflow events, said Susie Rieder, senior media relations advisor with the Crown corporation.

“Our system operators were aware of the approaching weather systems and started preparing in advance, which included bringing in additional internal hydrology and operations planning support,” Rieder said.

She noted that BC Hydro maximized the amount of water being diverted from the Alouette Lake Reservoir to the Stave Lake Reservoir to create more room in Alouette. Water was released to the Alouette River through the spillway gate at the dam and the free crest spillway, which are used to manage reservoir levels during high inflow events. During this event, the water levels in the Alouette Lake Reservoir reached the level of the free crest Spillway weir. However, noted Rieder, the Alouette Dam was not breached.

Spill notifications and flood alerts were shared with local officials, said Rieder, including: the City of Maple Ridge, the City of Pitt Meadows, Katzie First Nation and the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS).

The City of Maple Ridge started posting to its Facebook page at 6 p.m. on Sunday Nov. 14 when BC Hydro released a spill notification for the Alouette Dam. In the notification BC Hydro advised people to stay clear of the Alouette River for 24 hours.

The following day the city released another BC Hydro notification advising that Alouette Lake was reaching the freecrest level of the dam and that Hydro would be required to move from a controlled release of water to an uncontrolled release. They recommended people living downriver of the dam on the South Alouette floodplain to have emergency preparedness plans in place and be ready to self-evacuate.

Then, at around 10 p.m. that evening the city had developed a map that modelled potential flood impacts of the area based on water flow projections from BC Hydro. At 10:30 p.m. BC Hydro updated the city on the water release from the Alouette Reservoir that predicted peak flows to take place the morning of Nov. 16, but at levels lower than originally forecast.

This alert system is not good enough, said former ARMS president Geoff Clayton.

“Probably 90 per cent of the people living along the river haven’t been notified on how to access this or that it’s even available,” said Clayton of the city’s Facebook page.

“How many people look on the city’s Facebook page,” he asked. “It’s almost outrageous to consider that, as some form of an alert system.”

Both Clayton and Hurst would like to see a better alert system in place like an app or even a call system where residents inform other residents by phone, like the system ARMS put together after local flooding in 1995.

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said there are definitely lessons to be learned from how the last weather event was handled, and that the city will be making it a priority to learn from those lessons.

“Definitely we need to do better,” he said. “Frankly, last Monday, we dodged a bullet.”

The city knocked on 80 doors Sunday night and hand delivered notifications to residents along the river, he noted.

Morden would also like to improve the notification system through technology, but people can’t always assume their electronic systems are up and running.

Clayton would like the mayor to hold a town hall that involves local residents, ARMS, the city, and BC Hydro and he would like to see the utility speak to the capacity of the dam.

Morden is confident that BC Hydro has the situation well in hand for these next two weather systems – the first expected to hit the region on Saturday. There is only a 10 per cent chance based on BC Hydro projections that there will even be a flood alert notification, said Morden.

“BC Hydro has anticipated what’s coming and they have been letting water out of the dam.” explained Morden.

Current ARMS president Ken Stewart is still worried about what could potentially happen, especially when the final weather system moves in on Tuesday.

Although he suspects that BC Hydro has done all it can to get the water down as low as possible in preparation, he is concerned about snow in the mountains.

The weather, he explained, has been chillier, and if a warm front comes in, then not only will the area be saturated with rain, but snow will be melting as well.

“Just looking ahead, I would be more concerned about Tuesday than the next couple of days,” said Stewart.

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