The hamlet of Jordan River

No firm answers for Jordan River residents

BC Hydro wants to purchase their homes because of earthquake threat

Knowing there is an earthquake and a tsunami risk at Jordan River hasn’t changed much for at least one Jordan River resident.

Hugh Pite bought at Jordan  River knowing there was a dam there.

“The danger has always been there,” he said. “Nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned.”

Pite was among the Jordan River residents who attended a December 12 meeting with BC Hydro representatives who wanted the residents to know why they wanted to purchase their properties in the tiny hamlet about 40 kilometres from Sooke.

Susan Johnson’s voice broke as she asked Chris O’Riley, BC Hydro’s Vice-President for Generation, what Hydro’s immediate plans were for the residents, surfers, travelers, etc.

At the meeting she said, “the dam can burst at any second, what are your immediate and long term plans for residents?”

After the meeting she said, “When we were going to the meeting it felt more like a funeral,” said Johnson. “Friday is the day Jordan River died for us.”

O’Riley outlined the results of the six year study, but what wasn’t known to the Jordan River residents was that the outcome of the study and the resulting and seismic hazards were known since early in the summer.

“What’s most shocking,” said Johnson, “Is Chris O’Riley has known about it for six months, the CRD for three months and the media knew before us. For me, it’s incomprehensible. It’s seem ridiculous to have known for so long. Why so much urgency if they’ve known for six months, why three weeks before Christmas? We feel we were left out in the dark by BC Hydro.”

At the meeting it was stated that this was one step in an ongoing process and it was not about making decisions but about getting information. O’Riley said they were also open to ideas.

Three partners who bought the former Breakers restaurant were at the meeting and directly asked, “at what stage did you know?” They said they (BC Hydro) were buying out the community without consulting the community. They raised questions of exporting power to the Mainland, selling power to the U.S. and the environmental impacts if the dam gives out.

“Why can’t the dam not be repaired or rebuilt?” they questioned.

Stephen Rigby, Director of Dam Safety for BC Hydro, said it was a massive study and the absolute most stringent study possible. He said they now know more about the Cascadia Subduction zone, which is 40 kms. away from Jordan River.

He said the study showed that in Jordan River the g-force is 1.5 and is the worst case with the maximum amount of ground motion – double what happens on the other side of Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

“It was a bit of an astounding result,” said Rigby.

He said the Jordan River dam could withstand a .45g shake and actually has a very high seismic resistance.

“It’s a solid dam in great shape up to .45g. It’s a concrete buttress dam, one-half a metre thick,” he said, but it’s a poor design for this seismic area. He said it was heavily re-inforced in the 1990s but the problem now is if it is hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake it is the absolute worst case scenario and the “world would be turned upside down.”

The dam would not survive.

Rigby stated he believed they could upgrade to .9g but not 1.5g which would be needed to ensure the dam could withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake.

“No dam in the world is built to 1.5g,” he said.

John Horgan, NDP Opposition Leader, said that it was clear going through the presentation that the dam is fine but the location is the problem.

“We’re not dependent on Jordan River to keep the lights on 24/7.It’s more than just 11 houses, the values of the hamlet are worth more,” said Horgan.

O’Riley said the Jordan River dam is responsible for 10 per cent of the peak demand on Vancouver Island and operates mostly as a “peaking plant.”

“Jordan River is not the be all or end all of supply,” he said.

He said it plays a unique role in supplying Victoria and on the Mainland.

He said Hydro relies on it and in their view it is an important asset to the province.

“It will carry on for generations to come.”

O’Riley said that drawing down the reservoir to reduce risk was not feasible as they needed the power from the plant to keep the lights on.

Numbers, risk factors, g-forces and magnitudes were discussed. A one-in-10,000  chance of a magnitude 9 or larger earthquake was at the seat of the hazard and risk for Jordan River residents.

“If the dam weren’t safe, I would have to ask you to leave,” said O’Riley. He said the one-in-10,000 was a long term standard for having people downstream. He said the challenge was that they  don’t have a way to get the dam to that standard.

“In the short term, you have 20 minutes to get out of the way,” said O’Riley.

He said Hydro’s recommendation is to acquire the houses which then lowers the standard from one-in- 10,000 to one-in-1,000.

So basically, BC Hydro wants to get rid of permanent residents.

When asked about sirens or alarms, O’Riley said they did not have any and if there were any they would have been installed by the community.

Lending a little black humour to the meeting was one resident who said that if he was in his house and there was a beam on his legs because of a tsunami, the last thing he would want to hear is a siren announcing the dam has broke.

O’Riley stated that it would be public money (for rebuilding or re-inforcing) and that was part of the equation.

He stated that they have no mandate to expropriate any properties and Hydro was just starting the process.

“They can take these properties if they chose,” said John Horgan.

“It’s you responsibility to fix the problem,” said Susan Johnson. “You’re making your problem our problem.”

Travis Whiting, Senior Manager for  Protective Services at  the CRD said if a .9 magnitude earthquake hit there would be no missing it.

“You will be knocked off your feet. You will see destruction on land. It’s not an event you will miss. Know your risks, get a kit and be prepared, the message hasn’t changed.”