More dam words

Michael
Michael Johansen
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

A lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially those living on the island's west coast, have finally gotten a long-needed eye-opener: they've learned that hydroelectric projects are not necessarily good for the environment.

That's something many Labradorians have known for decades, ever since Joey Smallwood created a huge reservoir in his own honour, flooding almost 7,000 square kilometres of land, lake and river.

A lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially those living on the island's west coast, have finally gotten a long-needed eye-opener: they've learned that hydroelectric projects are not necessarily good for the environment.

That's something many Labradorians have known for decades, ever since Joey Smallwood created a huge reservoir in his own honour, flooding almost 7,000 square kilometres of land, lake and river.

The Churchill Falls project killed countless thousands of trees (their weather-bleached logs still choke the reservoir shores), plunged the habitat of unknown numbers of animals and plants under water (drowning them, too), ruined the livelihoods of dozens of trappers, contaminated the river water with high levels of mercury and reduced the majestic Grand Falls to a pathetic trickle.

It also buried Lake Melville's rich caplin spawning grounds under tonnes of silt and wiped them out completely.

Because of that, the thousands of seals that once came into the inlet almost as far as Goose Bay to feed every spring haven't been seen since the late 1970s. Even now, the decreased flow of water out of Grand Lake (caused by diverting river headwaters into the Smallwood Reservoir) is allowing salt water to enter the freshwater basin and threaten the habitat of native plant and fish species.

But the Lower Churchill, the provincial government wants us to believe, will be different.

Everybody in favour of it follows the premier's example and calls it "green" at every opportunity. By calling it that they want to convince everybody else - and maybe themselves - that hydro dams don't emit greenhouse gases and that these particular dams will hardly cause any damage to the countryside.

This misinformation campaign has been largely successful. Even people who should know better, or should know how to find out, tag the project as "green," ignoring data (including some contained in the Lower Churchill Project's own literature) that indicate a marked rise in both methane and carbon dioxide emissions when land is drowned. Some reservoirs, like one in Belize, emit even more greenhouse gasses than coal-fired plants that produce the same amount of power.

The government misinformation also seems to have created the impression that the Lower Churchill is a run-of-the-river type project, meaning it'll hardly touch the land at all.

What might counter that perception is the fact that run-of-the-river projects usually don't require either dams or reservoirs: hence the name. The Lower Churchill project requires two dams and two reservoirs and while the planned reservoirs might not be the largest on record, the dams will be big ones. Huge, in fact. You might even call them an engineer's wet dream.

The dams at Muskrat Falls and Gull Island will forever drown the longest, largest and lushest river valley in Labrador - a habitat of old-growth forest rich enough in fur-bearing wildlife to still support about a dozen trappers. The valley not only provides important grounds for the endangered Red Wine caribou, but it is also the site of the region's only stand of rare Canadian yew.

As well, according to the recently released environmental impact study, flooding the 307 square kilometres of land and water will destroy the habitat of 17 species of fish that live above Muskrat Falls.

The proponents say they can recreate the wrecked habitat and more, but they caution people that no one should eat much of the fish, for fear of certain mercury poisoning. As for the yew trees: they'll just be relocated somewhere else.

However, the threat the electricity transmission lines and towers pose to Gros Morne National Park, which the premier blithely dismissed as mere aesthetics, has opened one of the public's eyes to the truth of the province's environmental claims.

Maybe when both eyes are open and the Lower Churchill is seen for the messy boondoggle it is, the public will realize that if the government has $10 billion to spend on clean power generation it should rather go towards developing the province's plentiful wind, solar, wave and geothermal sources.



Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Grand Falls, Lake Melville Goose Bay Grand Lake Belize Gull Island Red Wine Gros Morne National Park

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    This is an excellent article. It is evident that you are passionate about the beautiful wilderness in Labrador and you are passionate about the environment.

    Sadly, it is evident that most Newfoundlanders have little interest in environmental issues. This could be excused to some extent with the development of the Upper Churchill. Joey's University was just starting to turn out new graduates in mass who would be the educated voices for our great province. Also, there was a lack of information on the planned development of the Upper Churchill and environmental issues were not promoted in the news media.

    But, with all the educated people in Newfoundland today and unprecedented access to information - by way of the |Internet - things should be different in 2009. How can Newfoundlanders close their eyes and cover their ears? Did we learn anything from the development of the Upper Churchill?

    The nascent plan to run hydro wires through Gross Morne raised the ire of some people as evident by the feedback in this paper. This would affect the viewscape for the park which is internationally recognized and advertised in the media as the place to go in Newfoundland. In fact, it would be a Newfi joke. But, the destruction of the environment by the development of the Lower Churchill has failed to raise a whimper of protest from the people of this great province. We are educated and have unrestricted access to information. What is wrong?

    In fact, this total lack of interest should come as no surprise. For decades, there has be little or no interest in smaller environmental issues where the destruction was like a cancer that advanced slowly but surely every year. Think of raw sewage in St. John's harbor, Sandy Pond, smaller hydro projects in Central Newfoundland, salmon rivers, forestry access roads, destruction of the bogs by ATV's, clearcutting, destruction of bogs for peat, garbage along our roadways, burning at landfills, no recycling programs and the list goes on and on.

    Yes, every Newfoundlander should be ashamed of this record. You cannot abdicate your responsibilities to the bureaucrats. You are now educated. You have unlimited access to information. Don't rely on the 6:00 news on television. This type of programming dates back to the 1960's.

    Speak up in defense of the environment and the beautiful viewscape around the Lower Churchill. It is your responsibility. Or just turn head the other way and hang it in shame.

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    This is an excellent article. It is evident that you are passionate about the beautiful wilderness in Labrador and you are passionate about the environment.

    Sadly, it is evident that most Newfoundlanders have little interest in environmental issues. This could be excused to some extent with the development of the Upper Churchill. Joey's University was just starting to turn out new graduates in mass who would be the educated voices for our great province. Also, there was a lack of information on the planned development of the Upper Churchill and environmental issues were not promoted in the news media.

    But, with all the educated people in Newfoundland today and unprecedented access to information - by way of the |Internet - things should be different in 2009. How can Newfoundlanders close their eyes and cover their ears? Did we learn anything from the development of the Upper Churchill?

    The nascent plan to run hydro wires through Gross Morne raised the ire of some people as evident by the feedback in this paper. This would affect the viewscape for the park which is internationally recognized and advertised in the media as the place to go in Newfoundland. In fact, it would be a Newfi joke. But, the destruction of the environment by the development of the Lower Churchill has failed to raise a whimper of protest from the people of this great province. We are educated and have unrestricted access to information. What is wrong?

    In fact, this total lack of interest should come as no surprise. For decades, there has be little or no interest in smaller environmental issues where the destruction was like a cancer that advanced slowly but surely every year. Think of raw sewage in St. John's harbor, Sandy Pond, smaller hydro projects in Central Newfoundland, salmon rivers, forestry access roads, destruction of the bogs by ATV's, clearcutting, destruction of bogs for peat, garbage along our roadways, burning at landfills, no recycling programs and the list goes on and on.

    Yes, every Newfoundlander should be ashamed of this record. You cannot abdicate your responsibilities to the bureaucrats. You are now educated. You have unlimited access to information. Don't rely on the 6:00 news on television. This type of programming dates back to the 1960's.

    Speak up in defense of the environment and the beautiful viewscape around the Lower Churchill. It is your responsibility. Or just turn head the other way and hang it in shame.