Run of River in China Creek

By Judith Sayers, President, Upnit Power and Chief of Hupacasath First Nation 

When the Hupacasath First Nation decided to get involved in alternative/ green energy, we researched the kinds of alternatives and what resources we had.

Because we have 28 main watersheds in our territory, run of the river was our best option.

We hired engineers and consultants to review our territory and we narrowed it down to the best 10 systems that we had. We ruled out any portions of a stream that had anadromous fish (we will not touch a system that will affect our precious fisheries resource and right to fish), any stream that had spiritual/sacred values attached, and any systems that had any other unique environmental value that we wanted to protect. We also looked at water systems that were closest to the grid, as building transmission lines is costly and can make the project not feasible economically.

We decided to make our first project on China Creek as it had the least environmental impact. China Creek on the Alberni Inlet has a set of impassable falls which means there are no anadromous fish in the system. We spent a lot of money doing research on fisheries values in the creek as it does have a resident population of trout and dolly varden. The City of Port Alberni has their water facility on China Creek and has roads into the area. Also, Island Timberlands and Timber West have their private managed forests in the area and have many roads so we only had to build one road down to our intake site. We did have to build temporary roads down to the area where we put in the penstock but these were decommissioned, leaving two for access.

There was a BC Hydro connection right at our powerhouse site, which is at the edge of a gravel pit so there was little disturbance. The penstock right of way is 4.5 km and we did have to clear the right of way in order to put the penstock in the ground. You bury the penstock so you do not inhibit wildlife from accessing the creek, and for safety reasons. The intake site was a very tedious process as you had to get instream and place some structure in the stream. We diverted the creek during a fisheries window and every rock that was used in the diversion was power blasted to be clean. At all times, there were environmental monitors on site ensuring that there were no impacts. The footprint on the land is the intake site, and the powerhouse.

All the water is put back into the creek after the turbine. The temperature of the water is not altered and flow is only reduced for 4.5 km. The water license sets out how much water must remain in the stream for the fish. Our intake system is above the city’s intake for its drinking water, and we do not affect the quality of drinking water that the City takes out further downstream. This illustrates how clean and green this project is. Upnit produces 6.5 megawatts of power at full generation. This varies with the amount of water in the creek. The Hupacasath First Nation owns 72.5% of this project and are very proud of the high environmental standards set for this project.

Licensing for these projects is becoming very onerous and costly, with new policies and procedures since we built our first project. As we are working on our second project, we know how much more work is being required to get the water license.

It is important to note that as a First Nation, we are able to use the resources in our territory and set the high environmental standards we want. These projects are non-consumptive of water and therefore can be very green, but every project has to be decided on its own merits.

BC needs to be independent in producing power and we all have to take responsibility to reduce our own consumption, but also to promote sustainable sources of energy. Run of the river can be one of those sources when done properly on the right systems.


[From WS March/April 2009]

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