As reported in our earlier blog, the Joint Review Panel (the Panel) appointed to review BC Hydro’s proposed Site C Clean Energy Project (Site C) recently released its report to the public. In addition to assessing the project costs associated with Site C and BC Hydro’s methods for analyzing load forecast and demand, the Panel put forward a number of conclusions and recommendations in relation to the environmental and aboriginal impacts of Site C.  Part 1 of this blog presents an overview of the key environmental findings of the Panel, while the Panel’s findings on the potential impacts to Aboriginal groups are discussed in Part 2 of this blog.

Impacts on Water: With regard to impacts on water, the Panel concluded, among other things, that Site C would:

  • make small changes to the hydrology of the Peace River, and such changes would be attenuated by the time the flows reach Peace River, Alberta;
  • pose some risk to existing infrastructure in Alberta from low flows and that this risk has not been assessed;
  • not cause a change in ice thickness, break-up time, or freeze-up water levels downstream at Shaftsbury near Peace River, Alberta;
  • result in negligible changes to fluvial geomorphology and sediment transport; and
  • result in localized adverse effects on groundwater that would not be significant.

Impacts on Fish Habitat and Vegetation: With regard to impacts on fish habitat and vegetation, the Panel concluded, among other things, that Site C would:

  • cause significant adverse effects and cumulative effects on fish and fish habitat;
  • cause significant adverse effects on rare plants; and
  • cumulative significant effects on vegetation and ecological communities.

Impacts on Species-at-Risk and Migratory Bird Impacts: With regard to other impacts, the Panel concluded, among other things, that Site C would:

  • likely cause significant adverse effects to a number of species that may see their status of protection elevated;
  • likely cause significant adverse effects on the western toad, broad-winged hawk, short-eared owl, eastern red bat, little brown myotis, northern myotis, caribou, and migratory birds relying on valley bottom habitat during their life cycle; and
  • not likely cause significant adverse effects on fisher, grizzly bear, moose, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer and ungulates.

Other Impacts: With regard to impacts on water, the Panel concluded, among other things, that Site C would:

  • cause a risk of acid generation and metal leaching from construction activities and reservoir creation;
  • cause significant effects to at-risk and sensitive ecological communities;
  • have a significant adverse effect on wetlands, in particular valley bottom wetlands;
  • have negligible effects on the regional oil and gas, forestry, and mineral and aggregate industries;
  • have adverse effects on navigation use of the Peace River, but they would not be significant because the river would still have to be navigable above and below the dam site;
  • cause a potential for health effects from a degradation of air quality in the region of Fort St. John, Taylor, Hudson’s Hope and for Aboriginal groups using areas close to the construction activities of clearing and burning, the construction of access roads and the realignment of Highway 29;
  • not have significant effects on greenhouse gases;
  • require a government-led regional environmental assessment, including a baseline study and the establishment of environmental thresholds for use in evaluating the effects of multiple,
  • projects in a rapidly developing region; and
  • cause diminished biodiversity and reduced capacity of renewable resources.

In summary, the replacement of a portion of the Peace River with an 83-kilometre reservoir would result in significant adverse effects on fish and fish habitat, a number of birds and bats, smaller vertebrate and invertebrate species, rare plants and sensitive ecosystems. The decision on whether to approve Site C now rests with the Province and Federal government. If approved, stakeholders will no doubt be watching closely to see how BC Hydro works together with environmental groups to address these environmental costs and overcome any potential opposition to Site C.