OPG info. session on water management

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Manon Lalonde, principal engineer at the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, speaks during an OPG public information session, February 6 in Pembroke.

Peter L. Smith
Local Journalism Initiative

PEMBROKE – Ontario Power Generation (OPG) held an information meeting, February 6, at Pembroke Clarion Inn, to explain their mandate and address concerns about water management. The audience of about 25 people listened as various presenters including Melissa Vogl (OPG planning board), Jordan Hughes (OPG technical officer for water management), Manon Lalonde (Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board) and Jennifer Gardiner (OPG communications and stakeholder relations) gave an overview of OPG and their operations on the Ottawa River.

The Ottawa River watershed is the largest tributary of the Saint Lawrence River and it makes up the majority of the Quebec and Ontario border; 35% of it is located in Ontario and 65% in Québec. It has over 15 tributaries including the Coulonge, Gatineau, Lièvre, Montreal, Petawawa and Madawaska rivers. It is only partially regulated.

Natural phenomenon is partially responsible for water levels. In the spring, melting snow and rainfall affect water levels as well as dramatic and quick changes in temperature. OPG monitors these levels year-round and uses its reservoirs to reduce the possibility of severe flooding. “Constant monitoring and making the best decisions based on the data we have is all we can do. We’re involved in many climate range studies and are constantly obtaining new tools to assist us with the issues,” stressed OPG representatives.

In 1983, the Canada-Ontario Quebec Agreement established the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, Ottawa River Regulating Committee, and Ottawa River Regulation Secretariat. Their main role is ensuring flow from the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River basin is managed collectively to minimize impacts of floods and droughts. A secondary role is to ensure hydrological forecasts are made available to the public and government agencies to prepare flood related messages.

OPG is in constant communication with Hydro Quebec and Quebec’s Ministry of Environment to share information on water levels and flooding. Water is measured at various dams at strategic locations.

“Is flooding the new norm?, asked audience members. OPG representatives explained it’s not expected to happen every second year, but as with weather, it has cycles. There’s a 5% chance of having a medium flood (a 20-year flood) during any given year and a 1% chance of a very large flood (a 100-year flood) every year.

Some attendees asked if the capacity of reservoirs can be increased, which OPG representatives explained isn’t possible given that it would take too much land to build new or expand present reservoirs. Costs would also be very high, it would have negative environmental impacts, and would encourage more development in floodplains. Various websites offer details and data: ottawariver.ca and opg.com/river systems.