For 45 years Manitoba Hydro has been operating with an interim licence under The Water Power Act for the series of projects known as the Churchill River Diversion (CRD); and for the last 35 years, beginning in 1986, Hydro has operated on annual permits, known as the augmented flow program, that allow them to raise water levels even higher than set out in the original 1973 CRD interim Water Power Act licence.
The interim licence was granted on the basis of 50-year-old science, and they did not consider the augmented flow program. The annual decisions that Hydro and the Manitoba government continue to make are made over the objections of impacted communities.
Impacted Indigenous nations and peoples were not even consulted until 1973 even though officials had been planning the project for nearly a decade. These communities faced the brunt of the impacts in terms of flooding, racism and abuse at the hands of hydro workers, loss of livelihood and culture to name but some of the impacts.
These are not problems of the past. Communities continue to be impacted today both by the historical decisions of Hydro as well decisions that Hydro continues to make today.
South Indian Lake was once the third-largest whitefish fishery in North America, but declined by 90 per cent following construction of the CRD. Following two decades of hard work by O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, fish stocks started to increase, until once again unilateral decisions made by Hydro and Manitoba with respect to the augmented flow program once again decimated the fishing industry.
Now, without public review and under the cover of a pandemic, with time running out under The Water Power Act regulations, it looks like the Pallister government is going to quickly issue the final licence for the Churchill River Diversion over the objections of Indigenous communities and peoples, so Manitoba Hydro can apply for yet another 50-year licence.
The final licence for the Churchill River Diversion project should not be granted at this time, particularly with the Augmented Flow Program, but even without it, until:
The fundamental and constitutional obligations to consult and accommodate impacted Indigenous communities are satisfied;
A full assessment, importantly including traditional ecological knowledge, on the cumulative effects of past hydroelectric dams in Northern Manitoba and the potential future ecological impact that the construction of more dams and their future decommissioning would have on the entire watershed is completed; and,
The Churchill River Diversion project be forced to become compliant with not only The Water Power Act, but additionally with more modern legislation such as The Environment Act that was not in force at the time, with such a review to include an independent public citizens led review process.
James Beddome is the Green Party of Manitoba leader.