O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations are calling for improved consultations on the potential for a Final Licence on the Churchill River Diversion and the end of the Augmented Flow Program, which they say has devastated their fisheries.
Manitoba Hydro has been operating on annual interim licences since the project was completed in 1977 and the province has said a final licence will be granted to take Hydro through to 2026. The Augmented Flow Program has been in place since 1986 and has permitted Hydro to operate at a range of water levels and flows above and below what is stipulated in the original licence.
On Saturday, the annual approval for augmented flow will expire.
Les Dysart, Hydro lead for OPNPCN, said this has decimated the white fish harvest from 400,000 kilograms a year to less than 40,000 kgs and has pushed the sturgeon population in Churchill River to the brink of extinction.
“We’re calling it a licence to destroy,” said Dysert. “It’s a death sentence for us, for our lake, our lake whitefish, our economy and in a sense our community. We are a welfare state because our economy has been destroyed.”
The diversion diverts part of the natural flow of Churchill River into the Burntwood and Nelson River system to use at the generating stations on the Nelson River. These stations supply 70% of the power for Manitoba Hydro.
Prior to the implementation of the AFP, there were about 140 licensed fishermen in the communities, there are currently 40. Under those fishermen, there were also multiple apprentices and the next generation of fishermen training. This was the largest economic driver in those communities.
They argue the AFP has led to large amounts of unused water being dumped into Southern Indian Lake and is believed this has deposited large amounts of sediment on the floor of the lake which has impacted the ability of the fish to spawn.
Dysart also pointed to other environmental impacts, including islands disappearing, boreal forest falling into the lake due to the erosion of the land.
“Manitoba Hydro is not clean and green, it’s hugely destructive to the environment, the lakes and rivers of northern Manitoba and is destroying people and communities,” he said.
Bruce Owen, a media relations officer for Manitoba Hydro said in an email that much has changed in hydroelectric developments and environmental standards since the CRD.
“The CRD was a large undertaking with environmental effects for communities along affected waterways,” he said. “Subsequently, much effort has been invested by Manitoba Hydro in studying, remediating and mitigating those effects.”
Hydro will also continue to honour all settlement agreements in place with communities affected by the CRD.
They say the government has not engaged in true consultations with their communities, just meetings to set up consultations that have not yet occurred. In recent months Dysert said new Minister of Conservation and Climate Sarah Guillemard has not returned their requests for a meeting, despite being promised by her predecessor Rochelle Squires that they would be consulted on the license.
“We’re not asking for Hydro to go away, we know they’re going to be here forever, we’re also going to be here forever,” said Dysert. “We need some kind of balance.”
The Manitoba Liberal Party called for the province to make meaningful consultations as well as participation in scientific research on the impacts of the AFP and other measures.
A spokesperson for Min. Guillemard said in a statement that consultations on a final licence began in 2009.
“The minister is reviewing the consultation summary materials and will make a licensing decision very soon with a commitment to ongoing engagement with Indigenous communities.”