Manitoba Conservation and Climate issued final licences for Manitoba Hydro’s Churchill River diversion and Lake Winnipeg regulation and the Jenpeg generating station May 13, more than four decades after the projects were completed and put into service.
Until today, Hydro was operating them with interim licence that had to be renewed annually.
Additional conditions have been added to the licences in an effort to address concerns raised by affected Indigenous communities about the effect these hydroelectric megaprojects have had on the environment and their way of life.
“The province has undertaken rigorous and decade-long consultations with the Indigenous communities affected,” said Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard in a statement emailed to media. “Manitoba Hydro will be held to multiple licence and non-licence conditions in the operation of these water-power licences. Consultation will continue into the future, by the province and by Manitoba Hydro.”
Constructed in the early to mid-1970s to redirect water from the Churchill River system into the Nelson River system in order to power the Crown corporation’s hydroelectric dams that provide more than 70 per cent of Manitoba’s electricity, the Churchill River diversion has operated with an interim licence for 44 years and annual approvals of higher water flows than that interim licence specifies, known as the augmented flow program, since 1986.
New conditions have been added to the final licences to affect concerns of affected communities, which include O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation at South Indian Lake and Tataskweyak Cree Nation, the the province said.
The licence instructs Manitoba Hydro to take part in planning and studies in areas affected by the diversion and to submit an annul report documenting their engagement with Indigenous communities, as well as to prepare a licence implementation guide within one year. Manitoba Hydro must continue public safety and debris management programs in affected areas and evaluate and implement options to reduce shoreline erosion. Water quality, including toxicology and methyl-mercury levels in fish, must also be monitored by the Crown corporation
Similar licence conditions for similar concerns are also part of the Lake Winnipeg regulation and Jenpeg generating station final licence.
Manitoba Hydro previously told the Thompson Citizen that the augmented flow program is necessary to ensure customers’ energy needs can be met during the winter months, when demand is highest.
Residents of South Indian Lake and other concerned citizens recently ran a campaign aimed at preventing the final licence for the Churchill River diversion from being issued, which included an online petition that was signed by more than 50,000 people.
Les Dysart, who represents O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation on the fishery and hydro impacts file, says the diversion had a massively detrimental impact on the Southern Indian Lake whitefish fishery and that it became even worse when Manitoba Hydro began the augmented flow program
TCN councillor Robert Spence said in a May 12 Manitoba Liberal Party press release on the issue that his First Nation wanted to see the augmented flow program ended and the diversion operated in a way that ensured the full protection and survival of the endangered Churchill River sturgeon.
“We share the same fate as the sturgeon,” Spence said.