Coquitlam-Buntzen – Water Use Plan


BC Hydro. (2005). Coquitlam Buntzen Project Water Use Plan. Vancouver: BC Hydro.

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The Coquitlam-Buntzen hydroelectric development is located approximately 24 km east of Vancouver on the shores of Indian Arm. The system is the oldest hydroelectric facility in the Lower Mainland, and contributes just over 7 percent of regional generating capacity for the Lower Mainland/Coastal/Fraser Region (about 0.4 percent of BC Hydro’s total capacity). Water for the Coquitlam-Buntzen system originates in the Coquitlam River, which flows from the Lower Mainland coastal mountains south to the Fraser River via the Coquitlam Reservoir. Tunnels divert water from the Coquitlam Reservoir to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) for domestic water and to Buntzen Lake Reservoir where the intakes are located for the two powerhouses situated on the shore of Indian Arm.

Coquitlam Reservoir is closed to the public and has no fish access other than for resident species. It is one of three Lower Mainland drinking water sources for the GVRD. Buntzen Reservoir and the Coquitlam River (downstream of the dam) are widely used for recreation. Buntzen Reservoir is artificially stocked with fish and also supports some wild resident species. The Coquitlam River is an important environment for fish and wildlife and has received a great deal of attention from local and provincial interest groups over the years. The area encompasses provincial, regional, and municipal parks as well as extensive urban development. There are also a number of gravel operations adjacent to the river. Since construction of the hydroelectric facilities in 1903, access by anadromous fish to the river is restricted to 17-18 km from the Fraser River to the dam. Serious concern about the decline of salmonid populations in the Coquitlam River has been expressed since the early 1980’s. In response, several enhancement and conservation initiatives were introduced, including escalation of minimum flow releases, hatchery production, and off-channel habitat creation. The Coquitlam Reservoir provides significant downstream flood control benefits to municipalities and to the Kwikwetlem First Nations reserves, IR#1 and IR#2, both located adjacent to the river. The Coquitlam- Buntzen hydroelectric system is in the asserted traditional use areas of five First Nations: Kwikwetlem First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, Katzie First Nation, Squamish First Nation and Musqueam First Nation. It is also within the asserted traditional territory claimed by Sto:lo Nation.

The 70 member consultative committee (CC) formed to create the water use plan and various working groups set performance measures for eight objectives: fish and river flows, wildlife and environmental protection, flood control, domestic water, hydroelectricity, recreation, industry and economic development, and archeology, history, and culture. CC members also agreed on the issues that needed to be decided outside of WUPs, including the quality of flows into the river downstream of the dam and sockeye passage above the dam.


Despite reaching an important agreement in which fish and domestic water were set as the top co-objectives (with power ranked third), substantial challenges remained. The proposed changes were limited by the ability of existing works to provide sufficient conservation flows, including the number of “fish valves” available to pass water through the dam, and storage levels behind the dam. The ultimate challenge, though, remained reaching agreement on flows that best resolved competing objectives and met performance measures.

The agreed-to flow trials to this date remain an experiment in progress. A final assessment awaits the results from a soon-to-be-completed monitoring program of eight ongoing studies of fish productivity, substrate quality, pink salmon passage, habitat use assessment, invertebrate monitoring, temperature, tributary access, and rampdown (fish stranding) monitoring. Flushing flows were also to be evaluated. Early indications, largely the result of more than doubling the baseline flows through release of an additional one to five cm of water, show an improving river, as well as an enhanced level of learning and river stewardship.

Today’s Coquitlam River has moved down a few notches on the “endangered rivers” list annually released by the Outdoor Recreation Council. Substantial habitat restoration efforts, integrated into WUP monitoring plans so as not to confound the flow trial results, have improved salmon productivity. Recent escapement counts of several species of salmon have improved considerably.

In summary, the Coquitlam-Buntzen Water Use Plan Consultative Committee succeeded in achieving a consensus on an operating strategy that will enable more informed decisions to be made on a preferred operating flow regime within fifteen years. The process was complicated by large uncertainties related to anticipated fish benefits and this was addressed through the adoption of an adaptive management program. This document is to forward these recommendations to BC Hydro and the Provincial Comptroller of Water Rights. The consultation process provided a framework to share information and learn, promote understanding between parties and interests, explore alternative ways to operate the facilities, evaluate impacts in a structured way and thus allow each participant to make clear choices based on explicit tradeoffs between technical and value-based information. Through this interest-based process, a consensus decision was reached whereby fish, domestic water, industry, and recreation interests will be all improved over current operations.

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