Okanagan Nation Alliance welcomes decision by BC Hydro to decommission Wilsey Dam

Dam to be decommissioned

BC Hydro has announced it will decommission the Wilsey Dam and Shuswap Falls powerhouse on the Shuswap River.

The decision is being called another step toward returning salmon to all parts of Syilx territory, the Okanagan Nation Alliance says.

The closure will allow salmon access to historical spawning habitat, BC Hydro said Monday.

"After extensive community involvement and our own studies, we have selected decommissioning the dam and powerhouse as the best way forward to restore the river to its original channel for spawning salmon," spokesperson Jen Walker-Larsen said in a press release.

The facility was built in 1929 and represents less than 0.1 per cent of BC Hydro’s total hydroelectric generating capacity.

Refurbishing the aging facility and constructing a fishway was considered, but the utility opted to decommission the facility entirely.

"Decommissioning instead of refurbishing will return that portion of the river to its original channel," says Walker-Larsen. "We expect this will provide a higher chance of achieving successful fish passage as it will create river conditions similar to what existed before the dam was built."

The ONA commended the decision.

"We have been working specifically towards fish passage at Wilsey Dam since the late 1990s. This journey has been long with constant changes, circling around and morphing into what we are working with today. By decommissioning this dam, we hope to see our social, cultural and food fishery flourish," Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis said.

For the Syilx Nation, there is an important spiritual cultural and economic significance to restoring the salmon habitat.

"Historically, our people would gather and work together to fish for salmon and trout from the river at the sw?awi? (Shuswap Falls)," said Louis.

Since the dam's construction, chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon, and other resident species like bull and rainbow trout have been blocked from their upstream migration.

"As Syilx people, we have an inherent right and responsibility to continue working to bring ntitiyx (salmon) back to all parts of our territory, including that on the sp?lm’cin (Shuswap River)," said ONA Tribal Chair Chief Clarence Louie.

BC Hydro will advance planning for decommissioning and prepare an application to the BC Utilities Commission to cease operations at the facility, expected within the next 12 to 18 months.

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