Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day Rant -- Too late to stop Site C?

The government of British Columbia keeps nudging us closer to making its Site C Dam project a reality. Even before the last hearings were held, shovels were in the ground, chainsaws were chewing up the forest.
While our neighbours to the south are de-constructing dams, we’re trying to build bigger ones. The prime example of dam removal in Washington state is on the Elwha River. That dam started providing power to industry in 1914. The last of its 100-year-old concrete walls were blasted away in 2014. Already the upstream movement of fish, birds and other wildlife has been dramatic. But the Elwha River isn’t the only place where this kind of de-construction has occurred. According to the organization American Rivers, over 1,200 dams across the U.S. have been removed. So, with that being the case, why is B.C. so committed to forging ahead with this plan – and not just for any old dam, but for one this massive?
The main component, the actual dam will rise 60 metres above the riverbed. That’s about the same height as a 19-storey building. Next, consider how long such a ‘building’ would be – 1,050 metres – just over a kilometre.
The reservoir created by the dam will have a surface area of 9310 hectares. Some of the area to be covered is forest, some of it other river systems, some of it agricultural land.
To put the size into more understandable terms, consider some conversions. The metric measure, 9310 hectares converts to just over 23,000 acres. An acre is a little bit smaller than a football field, but that’s way too many football fields to visualize.
Converting to square miles produces a more understandable figure: 36 square miles. The area of the city of Vancouver is 44 square miles. If you chopped off Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Regional Park, what remained of Vancouver would be 39 square miles, a little bit bigger than the surface area of the proposed reservoir, yet comparable, a figure that’s graspable.
But that’s surface area, so it doesn’t represent how long the new body of water would be. This mega-reservoir would extend for 83 kilometres, greater than the distance from West Vancouver to Abbotsford (78 km).
The amount of agricultural land in the ALR that would be flooded (3433 hectares, 8483 acres) is equivalent to more than 8 Stanley Parks. Such an abundance of farmland is impossible to replace. When one considers the projected rise in population – or weather fluctuations from climate change – complicated by the paving/development of agricultural land in the Lower Mainland, we should probably not be so quick to toss aside this much farmland.
In addition to flooding land that may well be needed for growing food, there is a cultural concern. Many First Nations’ heritage sites will disappear beneath the waters. Owing to beliefs that location of graves is sacred and intended for family only, many such sites have not been reported to Hydro’s teams. As a result, it is possible that thousands of graves will be flooded. Lands that have been held sacred for generations, places of important rituals, will be gone. Archaeological artifacts – stone tools and implements, some over 10,000 years old – lie where the waters will cover them forever.
We point fingers at ISIL/ISIS for its horrendous destruction of temples and statues. Yet, how is this planned destruction so different?
BC Hydro’s website states that the promise of the Site C project is to provide “enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year in B.C.” I try to imagine how many transmission towers will be required to bring all that energy south – and I question just how much more money from taxpayers this will require.
Hydro’s website further claims that power generated by the dam will be available “…for more than 100 years.” When the Elwha River dam system was opened in 1914, that same sort of optimism was touted. But really, how ‘forward-thinking’ is planning for a mere hundred years? At the end of this dam’s life, there will only be massive amounts of concrete, along with acres of irretrievably flooded farm and heritage lands. 
And there doesn’t appear to be any budget for de-construction or restoring the area when the dam’s lifespan ends. The province may still be paying interest on the money required to construct it. And with a number even they admit is close to ten billion, can’t they think of any better ways to spend it?
Many dam-building projects across the planet are being questioned and re-thought. We need to do the same in B.C. – quickly, while there’s still time.

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