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Hydro – an added threat to the forest industry in Mackenzie

Parsnip-Crooked River director Pat Crook speaks at the Mackenzie Matters rally. Bill Phillips photo

The forest industry seems to be facing existential threats every day in this province.

The industry in Mackenzie, however, faces an additional, truly existential threat … BC Hydro.

Three years ago Hydro wanted to lower the levels of Williston Lake, which is the reservoir for the Bennett Dam, which would prevent the forest industry from operating in the community, even if all the other threats disappeared.

And they’re at it again, according to regional district director for Parsnip-Crooked River, Pat Crook.

“BC Hydro has given notification that they are projecting a reservoir level of 2,150 feet and possibly 2,147 next spring,” he told about 1,000 people at the MackenzieMatters rally last week. “That would be disastrous for us.”

He said three years ago BC Hydro reviewed the Peace Williston Water Use Plan and requested a new minimum reservoir level of 2,140 feet.

“After impact studies of lower levels identified options that were neither practical nor cost effective, the water controller stated that the order, pertaining to the Williston Reservoir remain status quo,” he said.

He said with the permission of the water controller, they can lower the level to 2,147 feet or lower and, in an email to council and the regional district last week, is looking at doing so again.

“The effects of that on that on sawmills would be that access to water is the biggest issue with the biggest employer in this community,” he said. “With the reservoir level below 2,160 feet, loggers cannot get their logs to the water, the transporter cannot get into to town, and if they get a tugboat down the lake with a tow, they are hard pressed to get it out of the water. It would be costly.”

A level of 2,147 would result in the transporter being out of commission for at least four months, he said.

And that’s not all. Lowering the level would impact the power plant in the community as well.

“It would jeopardize access to processed water,” he said.

He added that even with a proposed $7.5 million upgrade to the community’s sewage system, studies cannot guarantee the system would meet sewage discharge regulations at 2,147 feet. “The District of Mackenzie would be discharging its effluent into a creek, not a lake,” he said. “The dilution factor would put us out of compliance with permits.”

And there is more.

Lowering the level would impact the pulp mill, as well.

“An operating level of 2,150 feet or lower gives the pulp mill some huge operational issues,” Crook said. “It would jeopardize access to process water from the lake.”

Mackenzie has been through this issue before. He said the community is working hard to ensure Hydro is now allowed to draw down the level of the Williston Lake and called for the formation of a committee to help in the fight.

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