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Economist links Site C dam to NAFTA and bulk water exports

Wendy Holm is drawing a link between the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and bulk water exports to the United States.

Holm is an award-winning resource economist, agrologist, journalist, University of British Columbia lecturer and Distinguished Alumni, and co-author/ editor of the 1988 book Water and Free Trade: The Mulroney Agenda for Canada’s Most Precious Resource.

Site C is a proposed 60-metre high, 1,050-metre-long earth-filled dam and hydroelectric generation station on the Peace River in Treaty 8 territory. It would create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir and flood about 5,550 hectares of agricultural land southwest of Fort St. John. It would also submerge 78 First Nations heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance. Logging and land clearing for the dam began in the summer of 2015. This past summer, the Trudeau government granted a Navigation Protection Act permit and Fisheries Act permit for the construction of the dam despite the ongoing legal challenges.

In this 5-minute video, Holm notes, “The Site C Dam is exactly where it needs to be to deliver continental water sharing plans that were put in place in the 1950s after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mapped Canada’s water resources in fulfillment of their mandate to the U.S. Government to make sure America ‘doesn’t run out of water’. …The stopping of the Site C Dam will also completely thwart the dreams of engineering companies to look at continental water sharing through the Peace Valley. It is impossible without the Site C Dam.”

She also highlights, “With NAFTA in place we have lost our sovereign rights to stop these sorts of things. With BC Hydro privatized, it will be in investors hands. We are making probably the biggest policy mistake we could.”

In 1999, the federal and provincial governments entered into a voluntary agreement banning bulk water exports. But any province that chose to lift that voluntary ban and approve bulk water exports would put pressure on every other province because the NAFTA Chapter 11 provision could be used by a company denied permission to export water from any other province. In 2012, the Harper government passed C-383, a bill touted as a means to ban bulk water exports. But the Act does not protect non-boundary waters, allows bulk removals of 50,000 litres of water per day, and exempts water in manufactured goods including beverages.

In her book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow argues, “Removing all references to water as a good from NAFTA would end the debate on whether the federal and provincial bans on water exports are sufficient, as it would remove any potential for a NAFTA challenge. Removing water as a service would help protect water as an essential public service. Removing it as an investment and excluding investor-state dispute settlement provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to fight domestic or international rules that protect water.”

The Council of Canadians has long opposed bulk water exports and first formally expressed its opposition to the Site C dam in October 2014.

The Site C dam is scheduled to be operational in 2024.