Water levels in the Williston Reservoir have been a hot button issue for more than twenty years. Now, reservoir levels are making waves once again. BC Hydro is looking into the effect lowering the reservoir would have on Mackenzie.
Longtime resident Rick Berry is wondering why BC Hydro is looking into lowering the reservoir in the first place.
“They’re saying it’s for emergency reasons and everything else. At 2140 we don’t exist! We can’t even flush our toilets.”
For Berry, it’s all about a promise dating back to 1996 from then Premier Gordon Campbell. Campbell put in writing the water levels in Williston Reservoir would not drop below 2150 feet. Now this promise is under threat. According to Rick Berry, so is Mackenzie.
BC Hydro’s Bob Gammer explains the Crown Corporation is seeing what would happen if the reservoir was set at a lower level.
“BC Hydro has an obligation under the Peace River water use plan that would do a study to look at what the impacts would be if the reservoir was lowered as low as seven more feet.”
As part of its research, BC Hydro consulted with industry.
One of the largest employers in town is the Mackenzie Pulp Mill Corporation. Manager Bob Grantham says lowering the reservoir would be catastrophic.
“What’s at risk, as the water level goes down and starts uncovering our intake pipe the reliability of the 16-thousand gallons a minute falls off and the dirt content goes up.”
The issue is on the radar of MLA Mike Morris, who knows how heavily industry in Mackenzie relies on the reservoir.
“It will have a significant effect on the forestry industry in Mackenzie as well as the community in general. There’s a lot of factors that have to be taken into consideration. I’m going to wait for the outcome of the inquiry that BC Hydro’s been doing. I’ve talked to the Mayor in Mackenzie, I’ve talked to industry in Mackenzie as well.”
Rick Berry suggest the whole idea of reducing water levels is tied to the Site C dam. But he hasn’t convinced everyone.
The district of Mackenzie maintains the study on water levels is not being done because of the Site C dam and lower water levels in the Williston reservoir are not required for Site C to operate.
Bob Gammer says there is no connection.
“Williston is not affecteed by the construction or operation of Site C dam. The storage at Williston is going to be used by Site C, in fact that’s one of the advantages of building Site C, is that we get to use the water stored in Williston a third time.”
The information gathered in BC Hydro’s study has been passed off the the province’s Water Comptroller. Now it’s up to the comptroller to determine if it is feasible to lower the reservoir.
For Rick Berry and the community, the waiting game continues.