Pull the Plug on Site C Dam

inWatershed Sentinel

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by Andrea Morison

The Peace River Valley in northeastern BC is under serious threat due to the proposed mega-Site C dam.  Promoters of this project neglect to consider the long-term consequences that would result from it. With global warming eradicating traditional food-producing land and with ecosystem fragmentation, particularly in northeastern BC, it is evident that a project of this magnitude must not be allowed to proceed.

The Impact
The dam threatens to flood 107 kilometres of breathtakingly scenic river valley. The Peace River is used by kayakers, canoeists, boaters, wildlife viewers and general recreationalists. Should the dam proceed, all of these activities will be detrimentally impacted. Watercraft use will be dangerous due to submersion of trees and vegetative debris as the clay banks slide continually. This is evidenced at the WAC Bennett dam upstream, where clay banks continue to erode after 47 years.  The bank sloughing will further eliminate precious agricultural land as well as wildlife, bird, and fish habitat.

Should the dam be approved, its construction will impact 55,000 acres of land. This includes direct destruction of 16,000 acres of farmland, and 15,000 acres of boreal forest, mostly as a result of flooding.   The remaining 25,000 acres of land will be within the statutory-right-of-way, much of which will slide into the river, thus rendering it unusable for agricultural production. This loss of agricultural land would constitute the largest removal of land from BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve in history.

Approximately 6,500 acres of the land that would be lost in the valley is classified as prime, Class 1 and 2 agricultural land. The land is especially valuable due to the unique micro-climate in the valley. The Peace River flows west to east and the warm Pacific air makes its way over the mountains and into the valley, providing prime growing conditions. This land is capable of producing a variety of vegetable crops as well as tomatoes and melons. It is widely accepted that, due to the effects of global warming, new food producing land must be found.  Additionally, it is preferable to produce food within close proximity to communities.  Allowing this farmland to be washed down the river would eliminate the ability of citizens in northern BC to access locally produced food and would deny them the opportunity to build a strong, local and sustainable agricultural economy.

The removal of 15,000 acres of boreal forest in the valley will result in serious impacts for several animal species. The valley is home to over 20 threatened species, including grizzly bears and bull trout. Critical winter and birthing habitat for deer, moose and elk would be destroyed if the river is flooded.  Wildlife habitat in this region of the province is already significantly fragmented due to oil, gas, forestry and mining development.

The valley provides habitat to several red and blue-listed species such as fisher and northern  myotis bats. Species at risk, including Canada, Cape May and Bay-breasted warblers, yellow rail, and Nelson’s sparrow, would also lose habitat. Construction of Site C would also result in the loss of several fish species, including:  migratory Arctic grayling in the Moberly River;  migratory bull trout in the Halfway River;  and mountain whitefish in the Peace River.  Fish remaining in the river will be affected by mercury levels which will increase significantly due to the inundation of flooded vegetation.
The cumulation of impacts from resource extraction in the region including impacts from the two dams upstream of proposed Site C (WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon dams) will impact First Nations’ aboriginal and treaty rights. Caribou numbers have shrunk to the point where they can no longer be hunted. Fish from the Williston Reservoir, behind the WAC Bennett dam, have been contaminated by methyl mercury, thus impacting the health of local First Nations. Flooding the Peace for Site C will also impact First Nations’ gravesites and areas of spiritual significance.

Power Demand Reality
The destruction and sacrifices associated with Site C are completely unnecessary as BC’s power demand has dropped approximately 5% since 2008. The power from Site C is slated strictly for industry, in particular, the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry. BC’s Liberal government has repeatedly confirmed that the power for Site C is for LNG;  most recently in an interview with Global TV in March, 2013, where Premier Christy Clark stated, “You can’t power up these huge [LNG] facilities without more power, so BC Hydro’s going to have to build Site C – we’re in favour of making that happen.”

There are a number of concerns associated with building Site C strictly for industrial use. First, BC taxpayers and Hydro ratepayers should not be responsible for subsidizing the costs of building this $7.9 billion dam. Secondly, we are already subsidizing independent power producers (IPPs) to the tune of  $1 billion over the next 4 years due to the fact that market prices are only about half of what is guaranteed to IPPs.

Thirdly, the gas industry is notorious for large fluctuations in market price. Given this extreme uncertainty, coupled with the fact that the LNG industry hopes to be established within the next 2- 7 years, and Site C would not be producing for at least 8 years from now, the case for the project makes no sense.
So, how did this project proceed to an environmental assessment process, despite the fact that it is clearly not in the best interests of British Columbians? In 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell removed the authority of the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) to assess Site C. The BCUC is an independent body, responsible for ensuring that projects such as Site C are in the interests of British Columbians. Additionally, it includes consideration of the need for as well as alternatives to the project. In 1982, the BCUC assessed the project and determined that it should not proceed because the need for the power couldn’t be justified. This more thorough assessment needs to occur once again.

Assessment Needed
The need for a more comprehensive assessment of the project by BCUC is supported by the fact that British Columbia is currently holding a huge debt of approximately  $170 billion. A year ago, the provincial government disclosed a debt and other liabilities totalling $70 billion; however, an additional $96.374 billion in contractual obligations also exists, for a total of $170 billion. It is estimated that at least $40 billion of these contractual obligations can be attributed to agreements between BC Hydro and IPPs. (The actual numbers are not available as these contracts are secret.) Additionally, BC Hydro financial records show that it carries a debt of approximately $14 billion as well as $4 billion in deferral accounts. Clearly an objective assessment of the ability of British Columbians to add to this significant debt load must occur.

British Columbians throughout the province support the stance against the Site C dam. It is abundantly clear that Site C is not only unnecessary, but also not in the best interests of either the environmental or economic interests of British Columbians.
To support the Peace Valley Environment Association’s work to protect the Peace River and stop Site C dam, go to: www.peacevalley.ca or follow us on Facebook at Peace Valley Environment Association and Twitter, @SavePeaceValley.

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Andrea Morison is the Coordinator of the Peace Valley Environment Association.

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