After sitting through both Hydro’s lawyers presentations and the judges reasons for granting the injunction to remove the Rocky Mountain Fort land stewards – and hearing Justice Butler comment on the many persuasive arguments Site C should not proceed at this time – I decided I needed to research more into Hydro’s other activities in the area-this is why the 2011 government review of Hydro was a pertinent place to start.
It sets the tone for a crown corporation that has long operated ‘in a silo’ where traditional procurement methods used elsewhere were not consistently used,rationales not always questioned and mounting debt of deferral accounts and loans taken to pay the BC governments dividend have the very real potential to impact the provinces credit rating.
Keep in mind that in that 2011 review, government ordered BC Hydro to find millions in savings over three years. And they did. Which is what makes BC Hydro’s responses to the BC Utilities Commissions questions in the ongoing hearings regarding the rip-rap repairs at WAC Bennett dam all that more compelling. I’m wondering where all those savings were found.
In November 2015, I wrote of the blatant hypocrisy of government that a multi-billion dollar Site C project was exempted from BC Utilities Commission, yet repairs to the WAC Bennett dam still went through the same process.
Less than two weeks later and well into the silly season of Christmas parties and shopping, Justine Hunter had an excellent article in the Globe and Mail.
More than three years after BC Hydro was warned by engineering experts that the W.A.C. Bennett Dam has a “serious deficiency” that should be fixed without delay, the Crown corporation has applied to begin work that will not be complete before 2019.
The expert panel, in a 2012 report obtained by The Globe and Mail and then released Tuesday by the utility, warned that the arrangement of large rocks at the foundation of the 47-year-old dam, known as riprap, is damaged. That has allowed waves to erode the material beneath the protective layer of rocks, undercutting the upstream slope of the massive dam.
“Continued wave action, floods and relatively minor earthquake loads may trigger deeper sliding that could endanger the integrity of the crest,” the report warns, “and even cause over-topping and eventual breaching of the dam.”
The panel expected BC Hydro would complete the repairs by 2015. “The panel considers this to be a serious deficiency that should be remedied as soon as possible. The panel is pleased to learn that a ‘riprap upgrade project’ is scheduled to start in 2012 and is planned to be completed within three years. It should not be delayed. If an earthquake were to happen before the upstream slope and the top of the dam are repaired, serious damage may occur.”
Of course, good old ‘Kootenay Bill’ Bennett said he hadn’t read the report but was confidant Hydro knew what they were doing. A tempest in a tea-pot, a non-issue.
Yet two days after Justines story, BC Hydro released this ‘note’ to the public, to “provide a fuller perspective on both of these matters and to reassure all interested parties that BC Hydro’s dam safety program and approach to risk reduction are second to none.” https://www.bchydro.com/news/press_centre/news_releases/2015/dam-safety-update.html
Yes I’m sure they are… just a few upgrades etc .. but one must question why these repairs were never acted on when advised to,particularly because they are severe to significant. But that one story really was the end of it and for all intents and purposes,many people even living in the area never even read it.Other stories previously reported did not mention the extent or significance of the repairs.
However, after reading the answers given by BC Hydro in response to the BC Utilities Commissions first round of questions during the hearings for the needed repairs, one has to question why such serious repairs were only brought before the BCUC… after the first big Site C contract was awarded.
These are the questions asked by BC Utilities Commission, and the responses from BC Hydro.
Page 4 describes and asks for clarifications from Hydro on all the reports since significant damage was first noted in 1998:
The response to this from BC Hydro is contained in the document above, from pages 21 to 24, details annual inspections identifying issues with the rip-rap that lead to continual erosion and eventual undercutting, starting in 1998. *click on images for larger view.
The WAC Bennett dam is classified as an ‘extreme consequence’ dam – according to the downstream consequences of any breach or incident. (pg 29) As a result of the identified issued in 1998 ( think about that), BC Hydro developed the ‘ Upstream Rip-Rap Emergency Plan’:
In the event that riprap damage extending to or near the crest of the Dam occurs, the ESRP calls for end-dumping and bulldozing or placing rock from the top of the Dam. (pg29)
On (pg 32), BCUC asks Hydro what the expected damage would be from a 1/10,000 year storm event and Hydro replies,noting such damage could happen with smaller storms at high reservoir levels:
Pg 34 speaks to what limitations the emergency response plan of dumping rock would have on a storm,flood or earthquake event.
Pg’s 37 & 38 speak to the many other repairs, upgrades and investigations needed on the WAC Bennett dam alone.
On Pg 42, BCUC asks if the need to do these repairs now,since the damage was first noted in 1998, is the result of more recent erosion, a change in risk, or some other change:
” Project sequencing, prioritization of resources and available funding….”
Am I the only one that finds it odd that ‘ public safety’ doesn’t appear in that reasoning?
Pgs 43- 48 detail Hydro’s response to questions on when emergency repairs would be implemented, and what the result would be overall on the dam. The more I read, the more concerned I become -and for good reason.
Having seen what happened at Mount Polley – and I am in no way suggesting that a catastrophic breach is going to happen at WAC Bennett – one has to question why critical repairs have been left for years. Even after a panel said they needed to be done without delay – so long they reached the point where an Emergency Rip-rap response plan had to be developed in case something goes wrong.
It just doesn’t make sense,even after speaking with people in the field. The engineering panel was very clear – back in 2012 – that: “It ( repairs to rip-rap & top of the dam) should not be delayed. If an earthquake were to happen before the upstream slope and the top of the dam are repaired, serious damage may occur.”
And as we know now, at least two earthquakes felt in the area were the result of fracking operations.
Why would the province and BC Hydro prioritize pushing ahead with Site C, which is still facing several legal challenges, ahead of critical repairs resulting from issues first identified in 1998 on a dam upstream? Repairing the rip-rap,undercutting and top of the dam is now a several year job and involves a degree of risk at the point when old rip-rap is removed, leaving the dam in a more vulnerable position than ever.
Why energy minister Bill Bennett, BC Hydro CEO Jessica Mcdonald and Premier Christy Clark aren’t on the hot seat for this debacle, is beyond me. And according to a quarterly dam safety report from BC Hydro ( could not locate a more recent one) there are a number of investigations,repairs and assessments occurring on Hydro dam infrastructure around the province.
This is the latest Quarterly Dam Safety Report.
The BC Hydro responses to the BC Utilities Commission demonstrate two important points that every BC resident needs to pay close attention to.
First, the questions show the importance of the role the regulator plays in holding BC Hydro to account and to ensure the best interests of the public ( ratepayers) is upheld. That the BCUC is questioning why these repairs are only being done now, is part of why government has hobbled them so much.And they are questioning the contracting and bid process as well as the costs. This examination is why the government exempted Site C from review- it would never have been approved.
Second, The answers from BC Hydro should have residents of Hudsons Hope, Fort St. John and the surrounding area, asking for explanations from their local MLA Mike Bernier, Enery minister Bill Bennett, BCHydro CEO Jessica Mcdonald and the premier who vowed to get Site C past the point of no return.
When a public safety issue like this takes a back seat to a dam project the province no longer needs, somethings gone terribly wrong If there was ever more reason to halt Site C and send it to the BCUC, this is it.
You can view the applications, process and evidence presented in this BCUC rip-rap repair hearing, here: http://www.bcuc.com/Proceeding.aspx?ApplicationType=Current
I’ll be back in a couple of days, with more. Because this isn’t the only problem on the horizon…
Volume 1 of the 2012 engineering report:
Volume 2 of the 2012 engineering report: