Peace River Valley: Habitat for biodiversity, food security for British Columbia

Peace Valley Environment Association Backgrounder for Peter Kent: Download. This important document links to geological studies, impacts of landslides in unstable structures, and safety evauation of earth dams for floods and earthquakes. Investigations of the Williston Reservoir and Risk Management of dams highlight unsuitability of this project.

Treaty 8 First Nations Bring Site C Dam into International Forum

The fight against Site C Dam goes to the United Nations

Fort St. John/Treaty 8 Territory- Treaty 8 First Nations have taken their fight against the controversial Site C Dam to the tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where they were given a rare exclusive meeting with Special Rapporteur James Anaya. Tribal Chief Liz Logan represented the Treaty 8 Tribal Association in New York and voiced opposition to the proposed Site C dam on the Peace River.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which deals with economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, is a space for indigenous peoples to voice their concerns. Discussions this year focused on the right to water and the standard of free, prior and informed consent.

“Canada has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People and this is why we must voice our dissatisfaction with both Canada and British Columbia as they ignore our concerns with this devastating project,” notes Tribal Chief Liz Logan. “The Site C dam will destroy our sacred lands in the Peace River Valley and we call on British Columbia to reject this project.”

West Moberly, Prophet, Doig, and Halfway River First Nations (collectively “T8FNs”) are opposed to the Site C dam, which will result in the flooding and destruction of hunting, fishing and over 7,000 acres of the best agricultural lands in northern Canada. The proposed 1100 megawatt hydroelectric dam has a new and growing projected price tag of almost $8 billion, and has moved to the first stage of an environmental review.

The T8FNs are continuing a province wide speaking tour that resumes on May 30 in Victoria, with stops in Vancouver, Sunshine Coast and Whistler. BC citizens are invited to come and learn first hand what First Nations, farmers and conservationists know about the reality of Site C.

Residents come out for Site C consultations
Ryan Lux,
Alaska Highway News, April 9, 2011

Droves of skeptics turned out for the latest round of BC Hydro’s Site C consultations in Fort St. John.

The purpose of the Crown corporation’s presentation was to outline the environmental and engineering field studies that it will embark upon this spring and summer that range from studies of the soil, bat and snake populations, air quality and climate.

Currently the project is in stage three and BC Hydro staff is in the midst of filing their formal project description report, which will get the ball rolling on the environmental assessment.

This season’s fieldwork will be used by provincial and federal environmental regulatory bodies to decide the ultimate fate of the controversial project. The majority of the meeting was dominated by residents comments, questioning the merits of the field studies and how that information would be used to defend the project’s future.

An atmosphere of distrust permeated the concerned audience about the objectivity or the research – due in most part to the absence of oversight by the B.C. Utility Commission.

Site C proposed flooding of Class 1 Agricultural Land

“If the BCUC were involved we probably wouldn’t be at this meeting right now,” said local Arthur Hadland. “There just isn’t an honest decision broker here.”

He cited the last serious Site C proposal in the 1970s when BC Hydro warned residents that there could be blackouts across the province if the project didn’t go through.

“We haven’t seen those issues in the proceeding decades and I wonder how we can trust what Hydro says now,” he added.

Some of the concerns presented by residents included the dams engineering stability, the role climate change would play and how the project would affect local agriculture and B.C.’s food security.

Local resident, Diane Culling argued that the area is susceptible to induced seismic activity and questioned whether or not fraccing on the Montney play could impact the dam’s stability.

BC Hydro engineer, Andrew Watson, acknowledged that fraccing does create increased risk for earthquakes, but noted that seismic standards have been increased for the dam since its original proposal as a result.

Ken Forest questioned whether or not the utility had considered the impact that increasingly unpredictable weather patterns would have on the project.

He explained that he had recently been in New Zealand and that their hydro-dependant energy grid was experiencing roaming blackouts as a result of five years of drought.

His counterpoint was Australia and Pakistan where record-breaking rains have led to massive floods, which engineers hadn’t predicted. Siobhan Jackson, BC Hydro’s socio-economic manager, explained to the audience that, with the participation of the University of Victoria, researchers have generated long-term climate change models for the Peace River watershed and have incorporated that information into the project’s design.

Jim Little pointed out that before the last dam was built he was able to get two crops a year out of his land, but now, due to fall fog generated from the reservoir, the land is two wet for his fall crop.

Ernie Reimer was unimpressed by the research BC Hydro intends to engage in

. “I notice your interests include spending thousands of dollars on research about nests, garter snakes, bats and other critters,” said Reimer. “But I’d encourage you as well to spend some money on a species called homo sapiens – I’m one of them – a man, a grandfather and for 45 years I’ve canoed the river with my children.”

He asked staff how many people they’ve spoken to in canoes and boats on the river while they examine animals and soil.

“I do not wish the human being to be equated with the well-being of a garter snake or ferret. I believe more credibility should be given to the people of the Peace Country who have lived here and enjoyed the scenery which is second to none,” he added.

Larry Peterson has ranched in the Peace Country for all his life and he said that Site C is never far from his mind.

He said the quality of the process in the latest spur to develop Site C is a far cry from that which decided the dam’s fate in the 1980s.

“I’ve found over the years that the way BC Hydro has gone about this process has been an insult and I think this process that we’re in now should be termed an ‘insultation’ process,” Peterson said.

“Your studies are like taking a snapshot and trying to use that to justify a project that will impact the area for a long time.”

He questioned the legitimacy of the entire exercise of consulting the public.

“I think this is an entirely flawed process, driven by a political agenda to achieve a means to an end and that is to build a dam,” charged Peterson. He and his wife are in the process of selling their land and moving to Alberta out of their sheer distrust of the B.C. government and Hydro.

Following the event, BC Hydro’s manager, Dave Conway, of community relations admitted that what he heard was universal opposition to the project.

“We’re aware that the vast majority of people here expressed opposition to the project and we hear that,” he said. “As a Crown corporation, we have the duty to uphold the honour and dignity of that Crown”

He emphasized that the original point of the meeting was to present the research they’re about to begin, and emphasized that BC Hydro is seeking the most fulsome information so that the provincial and federal governments can make the best decision. Alaska Highway News

NDP MLA John Horgan Says Site – C Unnecessary

In a wide-ranging interview, Horgan confirmed the NDP still supports a moratorium on any new run-of-river power projects. If the NDP forms government, it would review the power-purchase agreements made by B.C. Hydro and private power producers in order to ensure they are in the “public interest”, according to him.

“If it’s determined that they are not in the public interest, after the light of day has been shone upon them, then we would take action to rectify that. What that action is would depend on what the deficiencies are,” Horgan said.

Horgan noted he helped draft the energy policy of the NDP government of former premier Mike Harcourt in the mid ’90s. However, that government never reconciled the economic activity created by the dams on the Peace River with the damage done to the communities. He said the same of the industrial activity around the Nechako River.

Regarding the Site C dam project, Horgan said he has seen firsthand the damage done to the communities of the northeast, and wants to see a proper environmental assessment.

“They want some peace in the valley, and as long as the spectre of Site C hangs over their head, there’s never going to be a comfort level in the community,” Horgan said. “They want a full-fledged, full-on environmental assessment, so that they can put on the table the science of the sloughing, the costs of dredging, and the total costs on ratepayers of a $6- to $7- to $8- or even $9-billion project.”

Tria Donaldson: Keep the Peace: Impact of Site C dam would be too high

This valley is full of prime Class 1 agriculture land. Up and down the valley people are growing alfalfa, wheat, canola, and other grains.

Site C would destroy a community’s livelihood and history, disrupt one of the largest and most important wildlife corridors in the continent, and submerge valuable carbon sinks instead of promoting food security and the need to adapt to climate change. And in return we’d get a man-made lake full of mercury-poisoned fish, and 4,500 gigawatt hours of electricity headed mostly for export to California or to expanding destructive natural-gas production in the region.

When I arrived in the valley I was amazed. Each bend in the road revealed another stunning vista: a crystal clear river snaking through hills covered in old-growth forests on one side and rolling farmland on the other. Small islands dot the river, perfect habitat for creatures like deer and moose to give birth free from predators.

The scenic beauty of the Peace River Valley is only part of what makes this valley so special. It is one of the only unprotected valleys in the proposed Yellowstone to Yukon conservation area, and a critical migratory corridor for grizzly bears, moose, elk, and a plethora of other wildlife. The waters of the Peace are home to threatened bull trout and the valley’s trees host a large number of owls and other raptors.

We have enough electricity. We have enough rivers in pipes and behind dams. Let’s look at alternatives that make sense. Let’s keep the Peace flowing and free.

Increased GHG Emissions and Downstream Effects of Site C

Flooding the Peace River Valley for the $6.5-billion Site C hydroelectric dam project would increase annual greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia by almost 150,000 tonnes, according to a new study.

At that volume, Site C would qualify as one of the 25 largest single sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the province.

Half the emissions attributed to Site C would result from destruction of 4,913 hectares of forest to create the project’s reservoir, support roads and transmission lines. Forests serve as ‘sinks’ that absorb carbon dioxide, the main gas associated with global warming.

The other half of emissions would be directly released from the 9,310-hectare, 83-kilometre-long Site C reservoir as a result of decaying matter within the water body.

The study, titled B.C.’s Peace River Valley and Climate Change, says the proposed 900-megawatt Site C hydroelectric dam fails to meet the province’s 2007 requirement that new electricity development in B.C. cannot emit carbon dioxide.

The report was produced by West Moberly First Nations and the Peace Valley Environmental Association, and funded by the Vancouver Foundation.

Site C has been rejected by government on several previous occasions due to its cost and environmental impacts.

Elders from the Mikisew Cree First Nation began noticing changes in their territory years before the tar sands really took off, explained George Poitras. Water levels in particular had changed significantly. The differences were attributed to the W. A. C. Bennett hydro-electric dam on the Peace River in northeastern BC. Built in the 1960s, the dam has the capability to generate 2,730 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity.

The Bennett dam and its Williston reservoir, currently the ninth largest man-made lake in the world, have had far-reaching impacts. More than forty years after the relocation of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation to make way for the reservoir, a final agreement was finally signed this year between the Tsay Keh Dene, BC Hydro, and the provincial government.

While there has also been a final agreement with the Kwadacha First Nation, as well as a settlement with the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nations challenge is still outstanding. Despite the long outstanding claim, this past April, the government of BC announced the approval of the Site C dam proposed on the Peace River downstream of the W. A. C. Bennett dam, near Fort St John.

A study produced by the West Moberly First Nation and the Peace Valley Environmental Association revealed that the proposed $6.5 billion dam would destroy almost 5,000 hectares of forest and would raise emmissions of greenhouse gasses in BC by almost 150,000 tonnes per year. The Site C dam has been the subject of vocal opposition by First Nations, farmers, and environmental organizations.

The prospect of the Site C dam “really opens up another can of worms for Fort Chipewyan,” said Poitras.
With files from: Sandra Cuffe, Media Coop and Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
Brian Churchill’s comments to the press at the announcement of Site C.

While it is true that there are already dams on the Peace River, they are on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and anchored in solid material. The proposed Site C is 80 kilometres out on the prairies in lacustrine (lake sediment) material highly susceptible to sloughing and sliding. The actual footprint of the proposed reservoir could be 2 to 3 times the reservoir area do to the massive amount of erosion in these unstable soils.

While the government has maintained that BCHydro has been a net importer of electricity the past few years this is subject to scepticism as while they have purchased cheap coal fired electricity at night from Alberta they have held over water in the reservoirs that could have generated electricity. The 1980’s proposal for Site C said that there would be brown outs in BC’s lower mainland with in 10 years, we were able to show that this simply wasn’t true and in the last 30 years without Site C or any other significant generation being built there have been no shortages. We look forward to once again examining the true about electricity use.

Site C is not about meeting the electricity demands of British Columbian’s it is about exporting electricity. Former energy minister, now Senator, Richard Neufeld recently addressed Fort St. John City Council telling them to get on the Site C train. He also pointed out that the provincial government’s throne speech commits to connecting Fort Nelson and the Horn River Natural Gas Development to the provincial grid. Neufeld stated that Horn River would use up to 500 megawatts of the potential 900 Site C is designed for.

The proposed Site C project would actually produce greenhouse gases. By BCHydro’s own account as documented in our report BC’s Peace River Valley and Climate Change (found at www.itsourvalley.ca ) Site C would emit green house gases (74000 tons CO2 per year, equivalent of 18,500 cars) and continue to emit over the life of the reservoir. The reservoir would also result in the loss of the existing forest to absorb CO2 leaving an total CO2/year equivalent of 147000 tons equal to adding 36,000 vehicles a year in the lower mainland.

I was asked why I was so passionate about Site C. I said because it was wrong to flood some of the most productive land available to export power. The Peace River region is known as a special climate area in Canada, the most northern agricultural area. There is enough agricultural capability in the Peace River Valley to provide vegetables to all of northern Canada. In my family history we left southern Saskatchewan in the Dirty Thirties, moving to northern Saskatchewan where we could actually grow enough food to eat. The Peace River Valley can support our food needs and as climate change causes warmer temperatures and water shortages in places like California our ability to grow food here will be priceless. We cannot destroy this ability. Similarly, ecologically the Peace River Valley has a priceless role to play in ecologic resiliency to climate change. This is detailed in our report.

We are confident that in a full panel review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act we will be able to show that the Site C proposal is not in the public interest of Canadians and British Columbians.
Vegetable farm in Peace River Valley

The Peace River is one of North America’s key rivers, about 1,500 kms long and the only river

to carve through the Rockies.,. Already impacted by two major dams further upstream, the

remaining warm and rich valley bottom has become even more important for wildlife and

agriculture. Site C would flood lengths of river valleys equivalent to the stretch from Richmond

to Chilliwack or Langley to Hope. The Peace River valley has some of the best agricultural land

in BC and it would result in the flooding of over 7,000 acres of class 1 and 2 soils. This is the

biggest threat to the Agricultural Land Reserve and agriculture in general from a single project in

BC. In light of climate change, BC food security is critical and irreplaceable. The banks of the

Peace Valley near the Site C dam are highly susceptible to sloughing and sliding, making the

actual footprint of the proposed reservoir much larger due to the massive amounts of erosion that

is expected to occur. It is wrong to flood such vast quantities of prime agricultural land to export

power.

First the government said we needed the power for domestic use, then they admitted in the

February 2010 throne speech that it is for export. The BC agricultural plan says “All British

Columbians should have access to safe, locally produced food” and includes as a strategy

“Preservation of agricultural land for future generations of farm and ranch families”. Yet they

proceed with plans to flood thousands of acres of prime agricultural land. The energy plan states

“All new electricity generation projects will have zero net greenhouse gas emissions”, yet they

give the go ahead for a megaproject that will produce the equivalent of 36,000 new vehicles on

BC roads/year. Can we believe what they say?

Why is this shrouded in such mystery? Why are the Premier and the Minister of Energy, Mines,

and Petroleum Resources so afraid to meet the public with this decision, meeting 20 km from the

nearest town? It seems this process has been kept hidden behind closed doors, lacking any kind

of transparency.

THE FACTS

A Site C large-scale hydroelectric dam

• Is NOT green energy due to the significant environmental impacts

• Wipes out 104km of homes, traditional territory and habitat of local residents

and wildlife;

• Is expensive (est. $6.6 to $10 billion) and must be fully researched and

compared to other options.