7 Reasons Why Site C Dam is a Terrible Idea

Despite outcry from Indigenous, environmental, and economic critics, the Site C project staggers on. 

In addition to serious geological issues that have bloated project costs and may make the dam impossible to build safely (or at all),  Site C faces vigorous opposition by Indigenous Peoples. West Moberly First Nation, a signatory to Treaty 8, refuses to accept the loss of a vital part of their traditional territories, including the flooding of 80 km of Peace river valley and more than 20 km of its tributaries, the poisoning of fish with methylmercury, and deforestation and road building for the installation of massive transmission lines. 

Although the federal and provincial governments have both asserted that the harms caused by the dam are justified, the actual need for the dam has not been clearly established and alternatives have not been properly explored.

Here are 7 reasons Site C has got to be stopped. 

  1. Indigenous rights

Indigenous communities rely on the Peace River watershed for hunting and fishing, gathering berries and sacred medicine, and holding ceremonies. The severe impact SiteC will have on Indigenous peoples is beyond dispute. In their own joint environmental impact assessment, the Canadian and B.C. governments concluded that the dam would “severely undermine” use of the land, would make fishing unsafe for at least a generation, and would submerge Indigenous burial grounds and other sites important to First Nations.

In 2016, RAVEN supported a judicial review of the project brought by  West Moberly and Prophet River Nations. Unfortunately, that  case was dismissed on process  grounds: the Supreme Court of British Columbia found, and the Federal Court of Appeal concurred, that the Crown did not need to make a determination on whether Treaty rights were infringed as part of consultation on Site C. The court said that it would be up to the First Nations to pursue a civil action on the infringement claim. This is what West Moberly is doing with the present legal action.

Unlike with a Judicial Review, which looked at the constitutionality of the project’s approval process,  the civil case will delve much deeper. The case will address not only the harms posed by the SiteC Dam but also the infringements of Treaty 8 from two earlier mega-dams, the W.A.C. Bennet Dam and Peace Canyon Dam. 

Chief Roland Wilson of West Moberly First Nations has lived with the fallout from two previous mega-dams in his territory.

“Cumulative effects of industrial development in our territories have been massive and can’t be mitigated. The dams have had an enormous impact on our treaty rights as First Nations people.” – Chief Roland Willson

  1. It may be impossible to build the dam safely

Right now, the B.C. government is scrambling to deal with formidable geotechnical issues on the Peace River’s notoriously unstable right bank. In 2019, significant geotechnical problems affecting the dam’s foundation structure – amounting to “code red” project risk according to BC Hydro – prompted the B.C. government to initiate a project review to determine whether the dam can be built safely and at what cost. So far, the process has been shrouded in secrecy as the B.C. government has refused to publish the terms of reference for the 2020 Millburn review, or the expert reports and findings it has commissioned.

There is no bedrock at Site C. The dam is being built “on the geological equivalent of billiard balls”, according to Harry Swain, former chair of the Joint Review Panel on Site C. Engineers had warned for decades that the unstable, landslide-prone shale at the site is unsuited for a dam which has to withstand tremendous pressure from the impounded water. 

To make matters worse, in 2017 and 2018 alone, there were 6,551 earthquakes in the region equal to or greater in magnitude than 0.8. Almost all of the earthquakes occurred in the geologically sensitive zone where Site C is located and where fracking companies have been extremely active.

  1. Food security

A rare east-west facing valley, the Peace Valley forms a microclimate that comprises 31,528 acres of sundrenched land, making it some the best farmland in the country.

With droughts and wildfires driving food prices ever skyward, B.C. is destroying a valley that has the capacity to feed a million people –  one quarter of the province’s population. 

“Fruits and vegetables are the irreplaceable building blocks of nutrition. The Peace River Valley is the only area for large-scale vegetable expansion in the province.” Wendy P. Holm, agrologist who testified before the Joint Review Panel on Site C

  1. Ecological impacts

The idea that Site C Dam is ‘clean power’ is a myth. 

A 2016 UBC study found that Site C will have more significant adverse environmental effects than any project ever examined in the history of Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act. 

“Among other impacts, the Site C dam will destroy habitat for more than 100 species already vulnerable to extinction, including bird, plant, butterfly, bee and mammal species—this at a time when scientists warn we are facing a biodiversity crisis,” says Sarah Cox, author “Breaching the Peace”. 

The impacts of Site C dam would be felt 1,000 km downstream in Treaty 8 territory, at the Peace Athabasca Delta and Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The dewatering of the delta caused by the three dams (where Site C would be the “nail in the coffin”, according to hydrogeologist Martin Carver) could lead to massive drying of wetlands and basins, death of wildlife and further releases of CO2 and methane. 

The threat to Wood Buffalo National Park has prompted UNESCO to call on Canada to promptly conduct an environmental and social impact assessment of the Site C project, absent which Wood Buffalo could be downgraded from its UNESCO status.

  1. Climate impacts

The B.C. government has relentlessly promoted the dam as a necessary tool in its efforts to combat climate change.

In fact, dam reservoirs are a  significant source of carbon emissions because of anaerobic bacteria that break down vegetation and release carbon dioxide and methane. The razing of forests to make way for dams and transmission lines releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, while the drying out of wetlands destroys another valuable carbon sink.

A David Suzuki Foundation study valued the carbon stored in the forests, wetlands, grasslands, shrublands and cropland soils of the Peace River Watershed at between $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion dollars per year.

“ In a country in great need of reducing carbon emissions, we need to be looking seriously at the most cost-effective means of delivering new carbon-friendly power in a way that protects the environment and respects human rights.” — Sarah Cox. 

  1. Cost to taxpayers

While Site C is the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history, the need for the project is still in question. Study after study has shown that BC faces a domestic power surplus for years to come.  Meanwhile, as costs to build SiteC skyrocket , British Columbian taxpayers and ratepayers  will be on the hook to make up for the disparity between what the power will cost to produce and what it can be sold for. 

“A project that was sold to Premier Campbell at $3.5 billion had grown to $6.9 billion by 2014, was shortly increased to $7.9 billion once the environment review was safely forgotten, and now sits somewhere well north of $10.7 billion. Estimates—not BC Hydro’s—are that the total could be between $12.5 and $14 billion, assuming the geological conditions will allow safe completion at all.” – Harry Swain, former chair of the Joint Review Panel on Site C 

Wind power,  geothermal, small-scale hydro, pumped storage hydro and solar power all have much lower costs per-megawatt hour than the projected $88 per MWH that Site C would cost. Instead of saddling the public with huge debt, why is BC not exploring far less destructive and costly renewable energy options? That brings us to the real reason BC is building Site C.  

  1. Powering fossil fuel industry

In fact, Site C only makes sense as a source of power for oil and gas: in Canada’s northwest, that means fracking and tar sands industries.  With one LNG mega-project already scrapped (link to Petronas story) and court cases heating up against Coastal Gas Link’s pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, BC’s LNG dreams are rapidly evaporating. 

If the dam is ever built, industrial use of its power would be heavily subsidized. Unlike rates residential hydro customers will be on the hook for, LNG industry have been assured a preferential hydro rate equivalent to about a third of what the power costs to produce. 

Why build a dam we don’t need – violating  First Nations’ rights and drowning vital farmland – all to give the power away for pennies on the dollar to fossil fuel producers? 

The Choice is Clear: No Dam Way

In the face of the refusal of regulators, government and industry to see the writing on the wall, West Moberly First Nation is shouldering the burden of pressing on with a legal challenge aimed at putting a stop to this reckless project. 

Join RAVEN in standing with West Moberly Nation to bring their historic treaty-rights case to trial, so that the Peace Valley can flourish – in the words of Treaty 8 –  ‘as long as the river flows’. 

References: https://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/indigenous-peoples/indigenous-peoples-canada/resource-development-canada/site-c-dam








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