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Site C dam construction causing “adverse effects” on fish habitat

In the October 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.”

And yet in August 2016, his government issued Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act permits allowing construction of the controversial Site C hydroelectric dam to continue on the Peace River.

Now the Vancouver Sun reports, “Postmedia News revealed on [January 4] that an ‘inspection record’ posted by the [British Columbia] Environmental Assessment Office concluded that [BC] Hydro’s repeated non-compliance with sediment and erosion issues at Site C had ’caused adverse effects to water quality and fish habitat’ on the Peace and Moberly river systems.”

“The inspection documents detail problems such as: large faces of exposed soil leading into a ravine with little or no effort to stop erosion; extremely turbid water; sediment from landslides dumped directly into the Moberly River; sediment fences that don’t work; construction of a causeway over the Moberly River with no culverts or drainage structures in the flood channels; sediments entering the Peace River because of a washed-out culvert; significant ditch erosion.”

The article notes, “Mike Pearson, an Agassiz consulting biologist who has written federal recovery plans for endangered fish, explained that suspended sediment in high concentrations can directly impact fish by clogging and wearing away at gills. The more ‘lasting, widespread and inescapable (for fish) damage is in smothered spawning beds, loss of invertebrate food supply, infilling of pools etc.’, he added. [Remarkably], federal fisheries spokesperson Janine Malikian said that ‘[Department of Fisheries and Oceans] has determined that no serious harm to fish has occurred as a result of the incidents, and will not be conducting an investigation.'”

And the article highlights, “The Vancouver Sun reported last March that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not laid a single charge of damaging fish habitat, despite almost 1,900 complaints nation-wide, since controversial government changes to the federal Fisheries Act came into effect two a half years earlier. The Conservatives changed the act from a prohibition on harmful alteration or destruction of fish habitat to a prohibition on activities resulting in serious harm to the habitat of fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery or that support those fisheries. Harm includes the death of fish or any permanent alteration or destruction of fish habitat.”

In November 2015, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui wrote environment minister Catherine McKenna to affirm, “We believe that fully restoring the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act, as well as developing further measures to ensure the protection of rivers, lakes and waterways from pollution, extraction and harm will contribute to making environmental and water oversight credible again.”

We also launched our #EveryLakeEveryRiver campaign and have asked the federal government in many different ways to immediately restore and enhance federal water protections.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has now issued BC Hydro with a “notice of intent” given the adverse effects on fish habitat resulting from construction of the Site C dam, but the Trudeau government should never have issued the Fisheries Act and Navigation Protect Act permits in the first place (especially while court challenges are underway asserting that the dam is a violation of the United Nations-recognized Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent) and far more needs to be done to demonstrate their commitment to fulfill their election promise to protect lakes and rivers.