(THE NEWS/files) About 90 per cent of water leaving Alouette Lake passes through a one-kilometre diversion tunnel.

Along the Fraser: B.C. Hydro’s ‘dirty little secret’

A fish ladder and sockeye hatchery could help build and sustain Alouette salmonids.

Sports fishers seldom disclose secrets – where the big ones lurk or favorite lures. But, years ago, one told ARMS past president Geoff Clayton where to catch trophy-sized dolly varden char.

“He wanted to take me to the outflow of water coming through a man-made tunnel from the Alouette reservoir,” says Clayton. “It flows to Stave reservoir/lake, where it entered a generating station or bypasses into the lake directly.”

Migrating lake salmonids seek the strongest out-current, and 90 per cent of water leaving the Alouette passes through this one-kilometre diversion tunnel. In April and May, it guaranteed great fishing for dolly varden at the Stave end. The big fish awaited enclosed kokanee – broken and disorientated – on their fruitless journey to the sea.

“Hydro estimates 30 per cent mortality,” says Clayton, “but they haven’t done tests because they don’t want to bring attention to the entrainment issue. More will be ground into fish meal in B.C. Hydro’s jaws of hell, the turbines at Stave and Ruskin generating stations,” adds Clayton.

“Survivors belong in the book of records as the greatest escape artists since Houdini.”

U.S. scientist Richard Brown says pressure in turbines ruptures fish bladders and pops stomachs out of mouths.

Clayton says B.C. Hydro’s “dirty little secret” includes a ‘get-out-of-jail pass’ for killing fish.

“Section 35(2) and S. 32 of the Fish Act prohibit harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish (HADDS), and habitat. But, the law doesn’t apply at BCH’s Alouette facilities because DFO gave them a conditional exemption in 2010. Hydro convinced DFO a lake fertilization program B.C. Hydro funded would be compensation for entrainment, which kills fish. It didn’t redress entrainment issues at all.”

Authorization BCH NO. 2010-Water Use Plan ALU 01 – signed by DFO manager, Corino Salomi, and co-signed by BCH, and MOE – reads, “destruction of fish habitats authorized are, … changes in potential spawning and rearing habitats in the Alouette River as a result of operations from Alouette Dam and Generating stations… the stranding of fish in the lake and reservoir,” and “the entrainment of fish through the diversion tunnel.” Condition 6 of 11 for this exemption requires “review of the outcomes of an entrainment action plan in conjunction with a review of the (1996/2006) Alouette Project Water Use Plan…prior to August 15, 2015.”

Clayton sat in on the WUP review in 2005/6.

“The next review was to take place in 2015, at which time the 2010, DFO HADD exemptions would have been reviewed.

“It didn’t happen, folks,” he says. “Postponed to 2017. And now, moved to 2021.”

While this was going on, Hydro applied to the province for renewal of its water rights licence, which was due in 2018.

“They had the audacity to ask for a licence in perpetuity while a DFO-HADD exemption was still in effect. Granting this would give them the uncontested right to that water forever.”

A fish ladder and sockeye hatchery could help build and sustain Alouette salmonids.

Solutions have been explored, says Clayton.

Around year 2000, Clayton said Hydro commissioned Global Environmental Services to see if a fish ladder above the dam was feasible. Ironically, it said the strongest currents leading from the reservoir would take them through the tunnel and they’d be killed in the turbines.

“The sad thing is, we can mitigate entrainment. In Puget Power’s Baker Lake Reservoir,” says Clayton, “they’ve developed a ‘Big Gulper’, a channel that safely delivers juveniles to the Skagit River around the power station. A “salmonid action plan” restored sockeye at Hydro’s Bridge River power complex. Smolts migrate during the darkest hours to avoid predation, explains Clayton.

“Hydro and St’at’imc First Nations collaborated to mitigate mortality in the power canal by shutting the flows down for six hours each night – 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. – from April through June when smolts migrate.”

The Seton River Public Water Committee estimated a reduction of 200,000 fish entrained and killed in turbines.

“This agreement between DFO and stewardship groups in Bridge River was 19 years ago, but the problem’s lies unaddressed on the Alouette.”

According to the 2011 Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the 1926 Alouette Dam rendered extinct chinook and sockeye in the lake and tributaries of one-third of the watershed destroyed spawning and rearing habitat, negatively impacted salmonids in the river.

Sea-run stocks have been exiled from the upper Alouette. Entrainment remains the dirty little secret of a corporation that should work with DFO and MOE – guardians of wild salmon and sports fish – to correct this outrage.

Seven species of salmonids could return to Alouette Lake. Let’s finally make it happen.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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