Permit Granted: Site C Dam granted construction approval. Any thoughts and insights ?

How could anyone support and grant Site C Dam Construction Permit when drought hits the region?

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130)  – It’s one of the biggest infrastructure projects in BC history — and today construction has been given the green light from the provincial government.

Permits have been granted for the $9-billion Site C Dam despite seven legal challenges attempting to halt it.

First nations and special interest groups in Northern BC especially have been relentless in their opposition to the project.

But Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson, says 24 construction permits have been issued after careful consideration.

“We’re confident that the adequate consultation has been done,” Thomson says. “We want to move this project forward given the benefit for British Columbia — the 10,000 jobs that this project is going to provide for British Columbia and the future energy need.”

Thomson points out Treaty 8 First Nations have been involved in consultations on the project since August 2014.

He says the project will boost the province’s energy supply by eight per cent — enough to power about 450-thousand homes per year.

“This is a very, very important project for British Columbia,” Thomson reiterated.

BC Hydro says it doesn’t know when construction will begin. In a statement, the utility says it has just received the initial permits required to start some activities on Site C construction.

Hydro says it is confirming all environmental assessment conditions are met, and once a date is chosen, communities and First Nations will be notified before starting any work.

BC Hydro has also released an Abacus Data poll today suggesting support for the project is very high.

The utility’s Simi Heer says 81 per cent of people polled across the province think it’s a good idea.

“There does seem to be an existing level of support for hydro-electricity in BC and hydro dams have proven to be a success in our province for many, many years,” she says. “This may have influenced strong support levels for Site C as well.”

More than a quarter of people who live in the Peace River country, though, where the dam is to be built near Fort St. John, are categorically against it.

Hundreds of canoers and kayakers have planned a float-in Saturday on the Peace River to protest the project’s potential impact on the environment and agriculture.

The provincial government says six applications under the Mines and Heritage Conservation Act are still pending decisions, and further consultation with First Nations will happen through September.

Reining in water use

That drought prompted changes to B.C.’s Water Act. The province’s new Water Sustainability Act is expected to be in effect by 2016. Before the new act, B.C. had no legislation setting out the provincial government’s response to severe water scarcity. The province will certainly experience droughts in the future: the long-term prediction for B.C. calls for warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers.


Currently, the most senior water licence holders take precedence over newer licence holders. But in the future when droughts occur, the new act will allow all water licence holders to take 250 litres a day for household needs and also protect water flows for fish. 


Existing water licences will be reviewed every 30 years to make sure licence holders still require the full volume and have water conservation measures in place, although the reviews won’t start until 2046.


The act will also require a licence for groundwater extraction, something that currently isn’t required in B.C. That’s been a key water management gap for the province, since groundwater and surface water are linked. 

Snowpack levels across the province are at very low levels because of a warm winter and early melt | BC River Forecast Centre


“In drought in the past what’s happened is we haven’t been able to license some streams,” Cameron said. “What they’ll do is say, ‘Well, I’ll build a well, then,’ and just a few metres away from a stream, they’ll sink a well. It draws down the water table so the stream is impacted.”


B.C. may be gearing up for a dry summer, but California and Washington state have shown just how bad it can get. A severe drought in California has hiked food prices and sparked stricter water use regulations. Washington’s governor declared a state of emergency on May 15, with the snowpack in that state at historically low levels. 


To save fish, Washington state is moving water from stream to stream in an attempt to keep water flowing and is even moving salmon and trout to cooler streams. The state estimates the drought will cost Washington’s agriculture industry $1.2 billion this year.

Volatile future

A recent study found that by 2100, glaciers on B.C.’s coast will be reduced by half, while glaciers in the Rocky Mountains could shrink by 90% or disappear altogether. 


That loss could have an effect on water flows in some watersheds, notably in the Columbia River Basin – the site of several of B.C.’s hydroelectric dams.


“Glaciers in the Columbia basin provide up to 20% of the late August and early September flows, especially in dry years,” said Brian Menounos, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia and one of the authors of the study.


“So even though glaciers represent something like 5% of the total area of the Canadian portion of the Columbia, they provide that water when the seasonal snowpack is not there because of drought conditions.” 

The Purcell range in the West Kootenays on June 17. As of June 1, snowpack levels in the region were at 30% of normal | Dave St. Denis


At the same time, a warming climate will come with a 10% to 15% increase of precipitation. Without the natural reservoir provided by snowpacks and glaciers, we’ll have to manage an overabundance of water in winter and scarcity in the summer.


BC Hydro’s large reservoirs for the Peace and Columbia River dams can hold enough water to manage supply for several years, said Mark Poweska, the company’s vice-president of power generation. But this year’s dry conditions have idled smaller dams on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland. 


Washington state’s severe drought has dramatically lowered the Arrow Lakes reservoir in the Kootenays because of a provision in the Columbia River Treaty allowing water to be sent, for a fee, to the United States in dry years.


BC Hydro has modelled future climate conditions but has yet to determine how those changes will affect operations for the utility, Poweska said.