Tyson Creek Sedimentation Events Update

Update for April 27, 2010
Renewable Power Corporation Acknowledges Sedimentation Event

In a press release dated April 23, 2010 Renewable Power Corporation (RPC) of Gibsons, BC has acknowledged that operations of their Tyson Creek hydropower facility has caused major siltation problems in the Tzoonie River and Narrows Inlet.
RPC claims that they voluntarily  “slowed operations in February and stopped operations in March” and that the problem occurred when an “organic clay deposit” slid into Tyson Lake. RPC further claims that DFO officials have not identified any adverse impact on the marine environment. And finally RPC says they have made voluntary assurances to regulators that operations will not recommence until the company receives professional  advice that it is safe to do so.

We are pleased that RPC has acknowledged problems with their operations. However, the press release does not correspond very well with publicly available information from provincial “regulators”. The following is a list of specific examples.

  • Water Stewardship Division (WSD) personnel inspected the Tyson Creek facility on February 17 and notified RPC that they were not in compliance with the conditions of their water license,
  • The notification involved a breach of the federal Fisheries Act, ie, the deposit of deleterious substances into fish bearing water bodies (Tyson Creek, Tzoonie River and Narrows Inlet),
  • RPC responded by shutting down the facility on February 19. This was a mandatory response, not a voluntary one as stated in the press release,
  • RPC describes the contaminating material as “organic clay”. There is no such thing as organic clay. WSD staff describe the “deleterious substance” as fluvial-glacial till; a mixture of sand, clay and silt created by glaciations and transported by water,
  • The RPC press release states that the company can resume operations if they receive professional advice to do so. This is not correct. The Tyson Creek project is subject to an order from WSD (and possibly other regulators) which prohibits operation of the facility without specific written authorization from WSD.

The SCCA does not support or oppose the Tyson project. Our interest is in protecting the fish, wildlife and ecological values of the Tzoonie River watershed. The SCCA did tour this facility in November 2009. We found that storm water management and sediment control practices were highly inadequate and that the project was having a negative and avoidable impact on water quality in Tyson Creek and downstream into the Tzoonie River.

In our view, the problems emerging now at Tyson illustrate an important deficiency of the approval process. There was a failure to adequately assess the potential for mobilization of sediments in Tyson Lake. Now that sediments have been mobilized in the lake, flaws in the design of the facility have become obvious. The system’s aboveground penstock is vulnerable to freezing and cannot be shut down in sub-zero weather without risking severe damage to the facility’s infrastructure. Also, even if the system is shut down during a turbidity event, turbid waters must still be pumped into Tyson Creek which then flow  to the Tzoonie River, in order to comply with minimum flow requirements. And finally, the facility was allowed to become operational without a capacity for continuous automated turbidity monitoring with provision for automatic shutdown.

Our biggest concern at this point is that regulators may decide to tolerate pollution of the Tzoonie River and Narrows Inlet despite the overwhelming scientific and legal consensus that human-caused sediment inputs are a hazard to fish. In our opinion, the recent releases of turbid waters are a breach of the Fisheries Act and should be treated accordingly.

Further to the federal Fisheries Act, documentation that human activity has caused a deposit of deleterious substances is sufficient to warrant the laying of charges under the Act. Documentation of specific harm, such as recovery of dead fish, is not required under the Act. This is appropriate because it is often entirely impossible to gather such evidence.

On March 21, 2010, Narrows Inlet residents informed the SCCA that a large volume of turquoise-colored water from the Tyson facility had arrived in the inlet. Turquoise-colored water is indicative of glacial-fluvial silt. March is the typical time of the year when large numbers of chum salmon fry emerge from the gravel of Tzoonie River spawning beds and immediately begin their migration out to sea. It is highly likely that Chum fry were in the river just as the release of turbid waters was rushing through the Tzoonie River. There is no documentation of fish kill or harm. The only survival data we will ever get will relate to the numbers of spawning salmon that eventually return to the river. We hope regulators will not dismiss this event as a merely a cosmetic problem.

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