Eileen Delehanty Pearkes is hoping Cottonwood Falls could be turned back into a power producer. It was the city's source of electricity from 1896 to 1907.

Cottonwood’s power play

The site of Nelson’s first hydroelectric plant could once again become a power producer.

Part of a series marking Heritage Week in BC.

The site of Nelson’s first hydroelectric plant could once again become a power producer.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, who has long been involved in the restoration of Cottonwood Creek, says there’s an opportunity to include a model independent power project in revitalization plans for the area.

“One thing that came up in conversation with [Mayor] John Dooley about the creek restoration was the role the heritage of power production might play,” she says. “I think John said perhaps we could produce some power with this water.”

Preliminary investigation suggests the water coming out of the Cottonwood Falls culvert has enough head and flow to produce a noticeable amount of electricity — which could possibly be used to light the Cottonwood market, restored CPR station, and Baker Street-Railtown corridor.

Delehanty Pearkes says it’s not clear who would build or maintain such a facility, but Nelson Hydro, Columbia Power Corporation, BC Hydro, and FortisBC are all potential partners.

“They’re interested in demonstrating how an independent power project can function in a sustainable way that is not ecologically harmful,” she says.

In the case of Cottonwood Creek, the ecological harm occurred when the highway interchange was built in the early 1970s and the waterfall was forced into the culvert.

“The impact has long been done. This is an opportunity to take a culvert pipe that throws water down into a plunge pool and convert that into electrical power,” Delehanty Pearkes says. “We could create a hydroelectric facility that makes the best of a bad situation.”

She expects the project to have little or no aesthetic effect on the falls, and as a bonus, it would trigger a series of studies that could help achieve another goal: bringing fish back to the creek.

“The connection between nature and culture is what I like about this,” she says. “The cultural history of our region can connect with the natural features, and the contemporary culture too.”

Dooley, meanwhile, says the idea fits well with an overall plan for that part of town, which includes improved footpaths and an outdoor museum.

“I’m excited about it,” he says. “It talks about our history and will be an opportunity to highlight the area in general and also generate a little power.”

A subcommittee is expected to tackle the idea once a group working on a broader plan for the creek reconvenes in April. Other projects include planting riparian trees and shrubs, restoring wetlands and streambed, and creating spawning habitat.

Cottonwood Creek generated the city’s power from 1896 until 1907, when the much larger Bonnington Falls plant was completed.


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