Reservoirs, climate change

Weather is a fact of life with which we are all familiar, We live it, feel it, and see it. Consequently, we are all qualified to have opinions based on life experience.

Is our weather changing? Age will influence our opinion since years of observation provide a wide angle or close up picture of lived experience. My picture is a wide angle impression based on 70-plus years, while yours may be a close up photo, based on, say, 30 years.

The Prince George, Mackenzie and Peace River areas are where my weather observations began in the early 1960s. Winters were cold, freeze-up came sometime in November and spring breakup came sometime in March, most likely near the end or even into April. In between there were plenty of - 20 C to -40 C days and a very few days of thaw.

Those were the years I spent working for the B.C. Forest Service, clearing the shoreline for the proposed new hydro reservoir, Williston Lake. (It was) a man-made lake that flooded the Parsnip, Findlay and Peace River valleys and has a surface area of 1,761 square-kilometres now warmed by the summer sun. Within a few years of the flooding, we saw the winters change. Freeze-up came later, sometimes not until Christmas. Cold days were fewer, with many more mild days of thaw.

In 1932, a dam was built at Nelson, which enlarged Kootenay lake to cover 389 square-kilometres. In 1952 a dam was built on the Nechako River, another reservoir to provide hydro power for the new aluminium smelter in Kitimat. That lake surface area covers 890 square-kilometres.

The 1960s also saw a dam built near Castlgar, on the Columbia River, which raised the Arrow Lakes by 40 feet, making one lake out of the former Lower and Upper Arrow Lakes, with a surface area now 525 square-kilometres. Also in the 1960s, a dam was built on the Duncan River, with a surface area of 72.9 square-kilometres.

The 1970s saw another blockage of the Columbia River, the Mica Dam, this time exposing 430 square-kilometres of surface water to the summer sun. And, in 1972, the Libby Dam in Montana was built on the Kootenay River, backing up Lake Koocanusa 40 miles into Canada and exposing a further 188 square-kilometers of surface area to warm in the summer sun.

Back on the Peace River, a second dam was built just below the WAC Bennett Dam in 1980, with a surface area of 8.6 square-kilometres and in 1983, one more dam was built on the Columbia, at Revelstoke, to further warm another 115 square-kilometres of quiet lake water.

This year, the third dam on the Peace river is scheduled to be completed (Site C), warming another 93.3 square-kilometers of barely moving lake water.

The total area above reservoirs have opened to the blaze of the summer sun is 4,491 square-kilometres.

There is little argument among those of us who were there, the flooding of the reservoirs warmed the winters. We saw it. We lived it. We felt it. After the flooding everything weather-related changed.

Trees provide cooling shade and transpire vast amounts of moisture into the atmosphere, which also lowers the ambient temperature. They are our natural air conditioning units.

They cost nothing and they reproduce, to further enhance our comfort. Trees also provide food and accommodation for a multitude of life forms, bugs being just one of them. With the warming winters, bugs now thrive and reproduce like only bugs can. Some eat trees and over the years since the building of the dams, bugs have destroyed more than 18 million hectares of B.C. forest.

Eighteen million hectares of forest canopy eliminated, no longer shading us and the ground from the heat of the summer sun or circulating moisture into the atmosphere. Ground moisture quickly evaporated, this vast unnatural dead terrain now creating a huge vortex of heat, sucking moisture from the remaining green forest, creating perfect conditions for wildfires.

Wildfires, we all know, and have experienced, these horrendous events. They are no longer natural processes of nature rebalancing. They are the consequences of our actions. From 2001 through 2021, we lost 86,000 square-kilometres in B.C. to wildfires and forest practices, according to Global Forest Watch).

During my life time, reservoirs, bugs, wildfires and lack of intelligent forest management have destroyed more than 50% of our forest canopy in B.C.

Our World in Data points out that deforestation has occurred for a very long time. However, its data also shows half of the forested area lost has taken place since 1900. That is an area the size of the United States. In just the last 20 years, world wide, we have lost more than 12% of our remaining forest cover.

Climate change driven by greenhouse gases and cows? Or could it be deforestation, hydro reservoirs and bugs?

Barrie Hawes, Radium

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