Q+A WITH JEN WALKER-LARSON & THE GOOD PEOPLE AT BC HYDRO
The Revelstoke Dam generates its fair share of local intrigue and alcohol-fueled spurious rumour. Luckily, BC Hydro is happy to address this smattering of dam questions, even calling in all the experts for another round of Answers to All Your Dam Questions. What has one foot, one toe, a heel and a face? Learn some dam terminology below …
Bill asks: If the dam gave way this minute, how safe would he be in his second-floor condo of Selkirk Gardens … What about the roof?
It is extremely unlikely that Revelstoke Dam would fail, we have thousands of instruments that monitor movement, seepage, and dam pressure 24/7 so we would be aware of any issues far enough in advance to take steps to address the situation.
Andy wants to know: What would the landscape look like if the dam had a complete and catastrophic failure and flooded everything?
Hard to say exactly.
He also heard (it’s a two-part question) that, if Mica Dam failed, it would set off of a catastrophic waterfall effect of other dams, all the way down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Is that possible?
It is extremely unlikely that Mica Dam would fail, we monitor it very closely as well.
“Mark says fish get sucked through the dam’s turbines,
chopping them up into pieces—is he drunk?”
Eric wonders why the river fluctuates so much, and if the dam can’t generate the same amount of power all of the time. Is it possible to store electricity in a big BC Hydro battery?
The reservoir is the battery. Revelstoke dam is what we call a peaking plant so we generate more during periods of high demand, like when everyone wakes up and plugs in their toaster or comes home from work and starts making dinner and watching TV. The beauty of our hydro-electric dam is that they allow us to store water when electricity demand is low and use that water to generate power when people need the power.
Peter has to know: What are those red shack thingies on top of the dam?
There is a small structure with a red roof on the left that we call the ‘Pizza Hut’. Come visit the Revelstoke Dam visitor centre and you can take a trip up the longest, fastest elevator in Revelstoke, and stand out on the Pizza Hut to take in the view. We also have a red roof over the crane on the right. The crane runs on a track along the crest of the dam and is used to lift gates and other heavy equipment during maintenance work.
I… er, he, also wonders: Do you call the foot of the dam and lip of the dam the “foot” and the “lip”?
We do call the bottom of the dam its ‘foot’ and there is the ‘toe’ on the downstream side and its ‘heel’ on the upstream side. We call the front of the dam its ‘face.’ And you could call the top of the dam a ‘lip’ but we usually refer to it as the dam ‘crest’. Guess we are not too consistent with our terminology. We should really put some more thought into that.
Mark says fish get sucked through the dam’s turbines, which chop them into pieces, and all those fish guts go downstream. He says you can’t go fishing below the dam because it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Is he just drunk?
Mark is talking about what we call “entrainment” whereby fish pass downstream through the dam. At Revelstoke Dam this happens mostly to kokanee and usually the small, young ones. But it is not like there is a strong current at the dam’s water intakes that “suck fish in”. It is more that at certain times of the day and year the behaviour of the fish puts them at greater risk. Fish are usually able to pass through and survive because the turbines at Revelstoke Dam are so huge (over seven metres in diameter). It is against the law to fish in the sections of the river below Revelstoke Dam and Mica Dam because fish tend to congregate there.
Jacquie Cunningham, one of many dam fine employees at the Revelstoke Dam visitor centre.
Kary Fell and her daughter Heather from Golden want to know what happens to all the debris that builds up at the lip—the boom catches it, and then what?
The boom behind Revelstoke Dam is there to stop boats and debris from getting right behind the dam. Some wood does sneak past, though, and we regularly pluck it out from behind the boom so it doesn’t damage the intakes or spillway.
If I swam past the boom at the lip of the dam on Lake Revelstoke, would I/ could I get sucked under?
Possibly. Although the intakes of Revelstoke Dam are well below the water surface—more than 17 metres. There is always the chance we might need to release water over the spillway, and those gates are at the water surface. The booms are there to keep everyone safe, so please don’t cross them.
The creek at the top of the dam is filled partially with cement. I heard when the dam was built, there was exrtra cement left over, so it was all dumped there—is that true?
No, but that is a good story. We used over two million cubic meters of concrete to build the dam and had a concrete plant on site that only made the amount we needed. We did use some concrete to line the banks of the creek just above the dam on the west side—called Deadman’s Creek—to make sure that the creek flows could not erode the shoreline towards the dam.
Everyone wants to know: Will BC Hydro ever make the dam a giant waterslide with accompanying waterpark?
BC Hydro is a serious, conservative organization that works tirelessly to keep the lights on for our customers while keeping the public and our workers safe. As much as we hate to be boring, a giant waterslide/waterpark at the dam will never be in our 10-year plan.