Canadian electric utility BC Hydro's February 2003 measurements indicate low snowpack and in turn forecast low reservoir inflows that average approximately 90% of normal.

Despite these low readings, BC Hydro is confident it can meet the electricity needs of its domestic customers.

‘Keeping the lights on is our priority and we manage our system for potential low water years to assure that that is the case,’ said BC Hydro director of operations, generation, Gary Rodford. ‘The data we are providing to the public now is very preliminary as more accurate forecast data is available in April before the onset of the freshet (snow melt). Though our snowpack readings and expected inflows are low now, some reservoirs can recover with spring and summer precipitation, as was seen in 2001 when Williston reservoir’s forecast of 91% recovered to 107% by the end of September.’

To meet electricity demand, BC Hydro has a number of options and operating scenarios to find the best balance between the economic, environmental and social needs. In its reservoirs, it has sufficient water stored to meet the needs of customers over successive low water years, although the actual levels of some of those reservoirs may go lower than has recently been the case.

To lessen the impact on these levels, increasing the operation of Burrard generating station and/or importing more electricity into the system are options to offset hydroelectric generation. The Power Smart programme will also be a key initiative during this potential low water year, as conservation measures will decrease energy demand, lessening the impact on domestic water levels. However, there is a potential financial impact related to the low water situation.

‘For this year we are still projecting we will meet our revenue target of $350M, although low water levels will create obvious downward pressure,’ said BC Hydro executive vice-president and CFO Bob Elton. ‘There are also potential longer-term impacts for the next fiscal year. A continuation of low snow pack and in turn low water inflows may result in increased financial costs that could exceed $300M in Fiscal 2004 compared to average water conditions. More detail on this will be released in our new service plan on February 18, 2003.’