Over 150 people packed a community meeting Monday night in Pemberton to learn more about river diversion projects.
The subject is top of mind as plans move ahead for the Innergex/Creek (Upper Lillooet Hydro Project) power project and the community considers the Pemberton Creek Request for Expression of Interest process currently being undertaken by the Village of Pemberton.
"The meeting was organized by a group of locals, including myself," wrote Louise Ludlam Taylor in an email.
"(We) who wanted to ensure the public had full information about river diversion projects, including their environmental and financial impacts. The public in Pemberton, Whistler and Mt. Currie had previously only heard about river diversion projects from the perspectives of Innergex/Creek Power Inc. and of the Village of Pemberton. The latter is pushing a so-called community power project on Pemberton Creek. We want locals to be able to decide about their backyard: do they want an industrialized zone or do they want to maintain Pemberton as the gateway to the great outdoors?"
Two speakers also addressed the meeting: Gwen Barlee Wilderness Committee Policy Director, and Dr. Craig Orr of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
"We're calling for a moratorium on all private power projects and river diversion projects in British Columbia," said Barlee.
"We're also calling on the government to open up the contracts. We think that there's a huge liability, not only from a financial perspective but also from an environmental perspective. The truth is we don't have world-class environmental standards in B.C. The Ministry of Environment (budget) has been cut by well over 50 per cent since 2001."
Barlee's 45-minute presentation commanded the attention of every person in the room, a silent screening of the Canucks-Wild hockey game in the corner sitting largely ignored. Barlee expressed concerns that the recent surge of Independent Power Projects (IPPs) has been disproportionately high, terming it "a gold rush."
"In the 10 ten years there has been a 1,140 per cent increase in water-power license applications in British Columbia," she said. "Today in 2013, there are 45 river diversion projects operating in B.C. With another 33 in development."
She pointed to information from the BC NDP last month which showed that B.C. Hydro's Site C Environmental Impact Statement has a power surplus of 5,200GWh for 2013 and an expected surplus of 5,500GWh in 2015.
Contracting private corporations to generate energy that B.C. doesn't necessarily need in the short term was just one of Barlee's concerns. Through an FOI Barlee found there were 749 non-compliance incidents from a total of 16 hydro plants in southwest B.C. in 2010. This information was in a staff report approved by Julia Berardinucci, director of resource management in Surrey.
The Vancouver Sun, said Barlee, followed up on this information and reported that of these 749 incidents, 313 were related to water ramping (fluctuating water levels), 292 incidents of not notifying government officials of problems, 101 for not fulfilling mitigation requirements and 43 for not maintaining in-stream flow rates.
Ramping is used by run-of-the-river power projects to temporarily boost energy production by raising or lowering the water levels, however, if the water levels fluctuate too rapidly fish can be stranded on the sides of the river.
"Ramping is something that we do not voluntarily do, (it) is something we are obliged to do under certain circumstances to ensure that there is sufficient water levels," said Bas Brusche, director of public affairs at Innergex, who joined the audience at the meeting.
"It is something that is very, very sensitive and needs to be done very carefully. At Ashlu we have to ramp to make sure kayakers have enough water. We had a few incidents that resulted in limited mortality of fish (in the Ashlu), we don't deny that. If you do (ramping) too fast and unfortunately at Ashlu Creek there were two incidents where we did it too fast, then there are risks involved.
"When we know we have to do ramping, we have environmental monitoring consultants on the spot already to check on us. All the water levels are automatically monitored, if we exceed the limit (the data) goes automatically to the government. If there is an incident we have to report on that, we have to do an investigation and hire independent consultants to help us discover what went wrong and how to prevent it."
According to the 2010 compliance assessment, there were a total of 166 fish stranded, 87 of which were killed.
Mayor Sturdy was not present at the meeting but was briefed on the presentations by other councillors.
"According to the proponents, the benefits are really going to derive from the potential construction and operation employment opportunities," said Sturdy.
"If we can have the project incorporated into the Village of Pemberton boundaries then there are real and tangible taxation benefits associated with the assessed values on the property. But that is a long term objective."
When asked whether overturning the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project was still a possibility, Sturdy replied,
"I don't believe so. They have their environmental assessment approvals and I believe any decision to not advance the project would be the decision of the proponent. I think the horse has left the barn at this point."
The Environmental Assessment Certificate includes 37 conditions with numerous sub-conditions that are legally binding.