Plan for hydro dam on B.C.’s Similkameen River raises immediate environmental concerns


A river that has been identified as one of the most endangered in B.C. is the site of a proposed hydro dam by Fortis Generation Inc.

Plans to build a 45- to 65-megawatt power facility — with a 175-metre-high concrete dam and 21-kilometre-long reservoir — on the Similkameen River, about 15 kilometres south of Princeton, are drawing immediate environmental concerns.

The Fortis proposes controversial project for the Similkameen River
Fortis proposes controversial power project for the Similkameen River

Mark Angelo, rivers chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., noted in an interview Tuesday that the Similkameen was named one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in B.C. in 2011 due to a dam proposal on the Washington state side of the international border at Shanker’s Bend that would have flooded into B.C. That proposal was later shelved.

Angelo said this new “Canyon Dam” proposal is in the early stages by Fortis, which purchased the former Princeton Light and Power, the company that proposed a dam at this same site in the early 1990s.

He warned that “construction would create a reservoir upriver of the canyon that is estimated to destroy not only the canyon ecosystem” but extensive wildlife habitat, including for trout and other fish. The dam would inundate about 800 hectares.

From a recreational perspective, it has very high values as a paddling destination and the canyon stretch is also a striking and very beautiful part of river,” Angelo said. “Clearly, the dam would have significant adverse impacts ….”

Ruth Sulentich, community and aboriginal relations manager for Fortis, said the company is working with the province to obtain an investigative permit necessary to access land parcels for conducting technical and environmental studies to evaluate the viability of the project. “Should the investigative studies determine the project is economically, technically and environmentally feasible, Fortis Generation would begin application for long-term lease arrangements for the land.”

It could take two years to complete the technical and environmental studies, along with discussions with the general public and First Nations, to produce a viable project, the company said, adding that a hydro reservoir would have the benefit of reducing flood risk on the river and increase summer flows.

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