BC Hydro responses to BC Utilities Commission raises new questions over WAC Bennett Dam repairs

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:


And more.

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: 






48 Comments on “BC Hydro responses to BC Utilities Commission raises new questions over WAC Bennett Dam repairs

  1. I have been wondering what was going on with this story, it flashed and disappeared into the news cycle. Thanks for following this Laila, I’m going to share it far and wide.

    • Yes it did disappear really quickly. According to the BCUC site, they are asking Hydro for more information today,so I’ll continue to follow this.Shockingly..or not depending on how you look at it… Hydro is obviously wanting to do this quickly all of a sudden and again using the cost in construction price as a reason ( still not public safety,go figure)

      But it appalls me that they waited so long knowing it was a repair that needed to be handled asap in 2012. This is a calculated risk to take when considering the natural gas operations in the region. And while locals know dam repairs are needed, many I talked to were unaware of the extent or possible consequence of what could happen at the top of the dam in an earthquake or high wind event.

      Yet getting Site C past the point of no return is a priority over this. Unreal.

    • Thanks Shelley – this is a really big issue. The reports are clear and detailed and ongoing.

      From BC Hydro’s response to the BCUC above, it looks appallingly like they held off primarily for budget reasons. Which would be right in line with the the governments order in the 2011 review I recently posted to find millions in savings – holding off or stopping capital projects were mentioned as a good way to find savings,but with balance.

      The efforts made to mitigate the repairs needed are to be expected- Hydro doesn’t want panic or questions from locals but the ones I’ve spoken with are extremely upset by the information in this report. It is far more than simply putting up some more rock. The top of the dam is vulnerable.

  2. Excellent work. As always.

    The current group of politicians making decisions are only looking after themselves.

    Health and well being of any population outside of the party donation hemisphere is on its own.

    After the report of 1998, why didn’t the government of the day or after the current group took office, tender a repair or even put out one of their favoured RFP which could have manipulated a pay to play insider contractor on a never ending repair similar to what we see happening at the Vancouver Airport?

    Maybe all those people that use airplanes down there don’t realize what state of peril their main electricity supply is in. Or that the latest waste of $10-$20 Billion is downstream of that supply.

    And in about a year the same group will be pleading with us to trust them as they are better managers than the other group.

    Looks to me like trusting them has put us in a very poor situation financially and now has us in a very risky electricity supply situation.

    Might not want to get in too big of a hurry to de-commission Burrard Thermal just yet Madame Premier.

    • That’s what I don’t understand.

      Instead of watching something get progressively worse- which is what has been done here, because no repairs have been done to date on this issue- why not deal with the damn issue before it got to this point.
      It’s clear from the report the design of the dam is safe, but the top portion in particular is vulnerable and during the repairs even more so.

      That this isn’t being hammered in the legislature right now instead of the Tyabji grants- which are valid issues as well, but perspective here- is a shame.

  3. Well… There seems to be a clear choice. We can accept the uninformed cheerleading of Energy Minister Bennett and the spin from Hydro CEO Mcdonald or (if the Libs had not obstructed) – the unbiased professional expert technical study and recommendations of the BCUC.

    Excellent coverage Laila. You clearly connect the dots on just how incompetent/negligent (and corrupt) Christy and her Pirates are and why they stifled the BCUC oversight to push through Site C.

    Without BCUC oversight the Pirates do only what is best for the Liberal family – unimpeded by reality. Always at great cost, dam the rest of us British Columbians.

    • Hey don’t take my word for it.

      As I like to say, inform yourself. Find out what is really going on in your community. These repairs and the items in these documents are surprising to many.

      Yes, it does highlight what the BCUC does… and I like the many questions being asked, the clarifications needed on pricing, contracts, tendering… the reply to BCUC from hydro above is a good document to scroll through

      For example, in these repairs, BCHydro is using ECI method… meaning Early Contractor Involvement. The contractor is involved during the bid/RFP process…. and I’m hearing the contractor may be Kiewit on this one. Not sure how that impacts the pricing in all honesty. When other contractors have sent out consultants to work on MOT projects the result has been higher costs.

  4. What’s scary is that old spittle face Bill looks like the most capable of that cadre of fools in the picture above. And if that’s the case I’d be on the first bus out of downstream WAC Bennett dam country.
    Any word of the bid proponent’s tenders on the other dam?

    • Not so far- BIV last report was that they were being withheld- would be nice to see. I wonder if they worked ECI like these Bennett dam repairs are – Early Contractor Involvement, where the contractor works with Hydro during the RFP ??… Don’t see that very much. That’s also in the response from BC Hydro to BCUC, the first document embedded in this post, towards the end.

  5. You are an awesome investigator, Laila! After reading your column – I though “dereliction of duty” so I searched that and saw this:

    “The dam was first turned down in the ’80s by the independent B.C. Utilities Commission, which said BC Hydro hadn’t demonstrated that the power was needed or that the dam was preferable to all other sources of power.”

    “In the ’90s, BC Hydro suspended the project again because the need for power was still considered insufficient.”

    “This time around the provincial government has exempted the project from the oversight of the B.C. Utilities Commission.”


    Can anyone say BC’s government is competent when necessary repairs are ignored – repairs that left to develop could result in death and devastation? Repairs left to worsen as they work to get Site C past the point of no return – Does Site C fill the pockets of Liberal party donors?

    • My concern is this. The area has experienced earthquakes from fracking already. The engineering report is clear this is a big concern for the top portion of the dam.

      BCUC has just issued another set of questions for BC Hydro to answer in the hearings. Among them are questions and concerns over the seismic risk.

      Read those here: http://www.bcuc.com/Documents/Proceedings/2016/DOC_45887_A-10_IR-No2-to-BCH.pdf

      Why is Jessica Mcdonald, Bill Bennett and Clark not on the hot seat for this? Bennett and Mcdonald in particular. It’s a joke.

  6. Your work reminds me of old rumours that there have been holes in the dam ever since it was built in a rush by/under WAC Bennett, and then I saw the photo of just one such hole.
    I don’t know the truth behind all of this but I applaud you for bringing to light what look like some very serious questions that the BC government seems to be hiding.
    Note too that this apparent problem was first raised in 1998, meaning at the end of the NDP’s regime, and thus it was another problem that Gordon Campbell inherited but didn’t deal with, similar to his not delivering a replacement for Riverview.
    Maybe if the Christy Clark Liberals admitted there are serious flaws in the dam it would soon come out it was Campbell who was most negligent in not fixing them in a timely manner.

    • You must have heard of course, of the two sinkholes in the dam that were repaired of years ago, referred to above by NVG.

      The new letter of questions just issued by BCUC do ask more about the fine particles and in the report there is reference to settling etc in the core – that is beyond my technical knowledge but I would be eager to hear from one of the engineers that follow here.

  7. YUCK @ paying provincial taxes these days.

    Makes me feel like I’m contributing to a Destroy-BC-As-Quickly-As-Possible fund.

  8. Excellent research Laila.

    What boggles my mind is .
    Ultimately, is legally accountable if there WERE to be a breach?
    BC Hydro for not immediately doing the repair work in 2012?
    The BC Govt for delaying funds for the repair work?
    Fracking if the breach is caused by an earthquake?
    The only winners I’m sure will be the lawyers for Hydro, the fracking industry, the life insurance industry, the property insurance industry, and on and on and on.
    Where does the accountablility buck stop? The Premier? The minister in charge? Both? Neither?
    Who should pay?

    The taxpayer.
    And then the incompetant politicians and their lickspittle government employees more worried about “rocking the boat” than jeapordizing their garantaeed pensions will sleep soundly at night even though communities and hundreds (if not thousands of lives) may be hanging on their decision.

    Shocking and disgusting if it werent an every day event with this government.
    They all should rot in jail.

    • All very pertinent and excellent questions, and points.

      Who indeed? Who decided to hold off? Who signs off responsibility on this ? That’s were my anger sits. It is a calculated risk when you consider the seismic events in the area.

      Who indeed will pay?

    • Yes, I’m sure the residents of the Peace River Valley are breathing a collective sigh of relief after reading that news item. Perhaps the MSM is finally going to stop ignoring all the BC Liberal mismanagement of our fair province.

  9. that was an informative and entertaining read. sort of like a horror movie, the day the dam went wrong or the dam went.
    ah, well I picture this, queen of the photo ops saying how she is a drowned victim in her heart and help will be in the way. You know like her other promises. Saw on this evenings news how well she kept her promises to the First Nations who rescued the people who went in the water off of Tofino. Guess that is her way of keeping her promises. the B.C. Nurses are running commercials about how well she kept her promises about additional nurses. Sort of like her promises of a 100K jobs.

    I wouldn’t want to say the woman is a liar but the truth and promises and that woman are something which are soon parted. So a safe dam, well the only people who would die in case it bursts. would be the citizens of B.C. and they aren’t the ones Christy ever seems concerned about.

  10. Not to detract from the topic of BC Hydro but e.a.f. points out the total disregard the Premier has for the truth and people of this province. Her sorry excuse for dismissing the Ahousaht First Nations because it is a Federal issue, shows her utter lack of any decency. If it were a Federal issue then she had no business making the promise to help and “be there for them.”

    Further, the despicable mutterings of Minister Yamomoto regarding those First Nations people who put their own lives on the line that “we thanked them last week” is just flat out dismissive.

    There are a number of organizations qualified to provide the type of expertise and training required. The Government needs to step up and show good faith, not just good face.

    With the Bennett Dam frailties, imagine the response to a downstream disaster. “Gee, we’re sorry, ok. Smile for the camera, now.”

    Utterly devoid of any morals, whatsoever.

  11. From The Tyee;
    “A British Columbia government aide who lost his job for inappropriately deleting emails has been charged for lying while under oath. (George) Gretes is scheduled to appear in court in Victoria on April 20.”

    I will be off the Island at the time of his first appearance and I expect it to be merely a formality to set a date for trial or if the fix is in cop a plea. Should it proceed to trial in my lifetime I will do everything I can to attend.

    My imagination runs wild at the potential scrambling over this one following his first excuse of “just following my commanders orders.”

    Stay tuned.

    • One wonders if BC Hydro follows the same culture of non documentation, no emails or triple deletes that the government does…..

  12. Right you are to wonder. Gretes is a bit player but the MO is likely standard operating procedure across the board. Hydro, BC Ferries, Transling and likely most ministries.

    That is why I think it will be interesting to follow this one. Will it be another BC rail trial? Will Gretes be honest this time around? Will he do the right thing and blow the lid off or will the power brokers get to him and will they also silence others. Or will this dam bust wide open and flush out just how corrupt the entire system of governance is.

    I doubt that.

    Will the MSM watch and report on it.

    I doubt that as well.

  13. Hi from Erik;

    For those with a passion to know more, most importantly the context for this topic, please try reading “The Sink: How the Real World Works- Terror,Crime and Dirty Money” by Jeffrey Robinson and/or “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins. He published first 10 years ago and has just brought out an updated version with greater detail.
    Both authors make it unambiguously clear that enslavement of the population with debt has been and is the game plan.

    Ontario Hydro has been taken further down this road. You no doubt would have picked up on one of the news items coming from the Washington meeting of PM Trudeau and President Obama. They pledged to work towards greater integration of continental energy issues. For electricity, it exists under the banner of FERC which is US based organisation that controls the provision and distribution of electricity at the wholesale level throughout the USA , Canada and allegedly Mexico.

    The BC government and folks at BC Hydro are not economic or financial illiterates so what has been done in the name of BC Hydro has been and is being done to serve the interests of others. The “fig leaf” list of justifications for Site C has nothing to do with the needs of BC and everything to do with the marching orders from folks outside of BC.

    • I read John Perkin’s book a few years ago, and it did jump out at me how what he described doing sounded like BC. The method of the ‘economic hit-men’ was to overstate power demand, then push for huge, unneeded infrastructure, paid for using debt.

      BC Hydro has for years (falsely) claimed massive increases in BC power demand – so it ended up owing $56+ billion for IPP power contracts, and is now deep in debt.

  14. The REAL reason that Site C has to be built is because BC Hydro has known since 1996 that the Williston Lake Reservoir’s water level has to be dropped a thousand feet so that their Engineers can repair the damage being done to the WAC Bennett Dam.

    Build Site C, use the stored water behind WAC Bennett dam, will create a glut of electricity on the market that Energy Minister Bill Bennett keeps talking about, so that even the consistently highest rates paid in North America, New York and San Francisco, will be on an equal footing with the other nineteen cities!

  15. Too bad BC doesn’t have a Dutchman to stick his finger in the dam! Or maybe you can HopeWell the eroding rocks in the Maritimes won’t migrate to the western coast.
    (From a stubble-jumper more centrally located)

    • I’ll have more on this WAC Bennett dam story shortly, just took a break there for a Surrey blog and of course, Spring Break is here..lol.

  16. Yes to LNG? Except for the small matter of there being no market for it:

    “Even if the minister said, ‘Great, no problem,’ and the government said, ‘Great, go ahead,’ there’s no market for this at the moment,” says Ken Courtis, a former vice-chair of Goldman Sachs Asia who advised China National Offshore Oil Corp. on an LNG project in Australia. “By 2020, we’re going to have natural gas coming out our ears.”


    • No, BC Hydro is not allowed to use Burrard Thermal, except in emergencies.
      This policy is helpful to IPPs as it justifies more IPP power sales to BC Hydro.
      This is what happens when the IPP industry writes the policies.

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