The Ryan River hydro project needs to be relocated or redesigned to mitigate its impact on fish, a government official said at a meeting last January.
Minutes from a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) meeting on Jan. 29 in Vancouver show Vince Busto, a habitat and hydrotechnical engineer with Fisheries Canada, told proponents of the 145 MW run-of-river project near Pemberton that it needs to be moved or revamped or else the ministry won't give its approval.
The meeting took place as part of referrals under an environmental assessment process mandated by B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office. Where private projects have an impact on fish habitat, the federal ministry must be consulted before a permit is issued.
At the meeting Busto explained that Fisheries Canada uses a risk assessment matrix, or "rainbow diagram," to judge whether a project has a low, medium high or significant negative" risk. It classifies every power project with a "blue-listed" fish species in its diversion reach as a "no-go."
The Ryan project, which is being promoted by Regional Power Inc., falls in the "significant negative effects" section of the risk matrix, according to Busto, and thus a permit should not be issued.
"We've got a working group that's looking at small hydro projects in general," he said in an interview. "We've had discussion around how to apply our risk management framework to these types of projects. What tends to push it towards the high end of the risk management framework are things like anadromous fish, between the intake and the powerhouse.
"In this case there's bull trout pretty well throughout the diversion reach, right from a short distance downstream of the intake to right downstream we've got bull trout."
The proponents seek to bore a tunnel approximately 10 kilometres through Sugarloaf Mountain, diverting flow from about eight to nine kilometres of the Ryan River. The water would come through the tunnel to a powerhouse where it would turn turbines to generate electricity along a transmission route that would eventually intersect at the Rutherford substation.
Bull trout, Busto said, swim right through the area from which water will be diverted and the ministry is concerned that reduced flows could negatively impact habitat for the fish.
"From our understanding of bull trout biology, which is by no means perfect, they're a very sensitive species to changes in their environment," he said. "That's just what I've read in the literature and information. They're a sensitive species to changes in their environment and that would be a concern. Any changes in their environment could have a detrimental impact."
David Carter, executive vice-president of Regional Power, said in an interview two weeks ago that the company is working on a re-design of the project that might include fisheries enhancement. The company has already planned to build a spawning channel at the mouth of the Ryan project, much as it did for its Blue Planet Prize-winning Sechelt Creek project. Regional Power is examining its options for the Ryan project.
"Agencies have a process that they look at and say, we believe this is going to have some negative impact," Carter said. "We're at that stage right now, we're looking at what the options are in terms of enhancement, water flows, other aspects that relate to the development."
The Ryan, however, isn't the only power project planned in the vicinity. Creek Power Inc., a joint venture between Innergex and Ledcor, has a project planned for the Upper Lillooet River that is currently going through an environmental assessment.
Unlike Regional Power, it already has a power purchase agreement from BC Hydro through the Clean Power Call.
Busto says he has concerns about that project similar to what he has with the Ryan, though he has yet to follow up on them.
"We have some of the same concerns as we did for the Ryan project," he said. "We have yet to put a notice of commencement for the Environmental Assessment with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency."