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Flooding the Landscape: The Site C Dam on B.C.’s Peace River

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic News Watch blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Text and Photos by iLCP Fellow Garth Lenz.

The Peace River Valley's Island's, wetlands, and riparian zones are important habitat and a critical migratory corridor for a wide range of species.
The Peace River Valley’s Island’s, wetlands, and riparian zones are important habitat and a critical migratory corridor for a wide range of species.

As the small Piper Super Cub climbs, this beautiful valley spreads out below me. For the past week film maker Jenny Nichols and I have been on the ground, exploring and photographing this 84 kilometer long fertile oasis in Canada’s north, while getting to know some of its inhabitants and learning why this valley is so special to them. British Columbia’s Peace River valley is something of an anomaly. In this part of the world the vast majority of river valleys run in a general north south direction, many of these are steep sided and bordered by snow covered mountain peaks. Unlike them the Peace, runs east/west through this hundred kilometer section from the small rural community of Hudson’s Hope to the burgeoning oil and gas boomtown of Fort St. John.

Third generation Peace River Valley farmers, Arlene and Ken Boon. If Site C is built their farm, which has been Arlene's family farm for three generations, would be lost. The reservoir would reach to the bottom of their house, flooding their farmland below and the proposed highway would cut through the middle of their yard.
Third generation Peace River Valley farmers, Arlene and Ken Boon. If Site C is built their farm, which has been Arlene’s family farm for three generations, would be lost. The reservoir would reach to the bottom of their house, flooding their farmland below and the proposed highway would cut through the middle of their yard.

With two Dams already further upstream, the WAC Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam, the B.C. government’s crown corporation B.C. Hydro is now proposing a third Mega Dam known as Site C. This 60 meter high proposed Dam would be located near Fort St. John and would create a massive 83 kilometer long reservoir extending back to Hudson’s Hope, flooding the landscape below me and turning it into a giant reservoir. The projected cost of the Dam is currently 8 billion dollars. A cost that as a crown corporation B.C. tax payers will be on the hook for and which will be added to the already promised 28% increase in power rates. In B.C., taxpayer funded mega projects have a nasty habit of increasing two to three times the original estimate. No one expects Site C to be the exception to this general rule.

Renee Ardill (foreground) on the Ardill's family ranch. Originally established in 1920 by Renee's Grandfather, large sections of this successful ranch would be flooded if the proposed dam is built.
Renee Ardill (foreground) on the Ardill’s family ranch. Originally established in 1920 by Renee’s Grandfather, large sections of this successful ranch would be flooded if the proposed dam is built.
The south facing slopes along the Peace River are some of the most fertile agricultural land in the north.
The south facing slopes along the Peace River are some of the most fertile agricultural land in the north.

As we climb higher, the benefit of this geographical setting becomes obvious. The broad flat valley bottom is home to farms and ranches all along its sunlit northern border, in the middle of the river and along its southern shore are a profusion of low lying islands, wetlands, riparian zones and boreal forest. It is clearly evident why this rich valley is one of the most important wildlife corridors along the entire Yellowstone to Yukon migration route, why it has been home to First Nations for thousands of years, and why it is considered to be perhaps the most fertile valley in northern B.C. with the capacity to feed one quarter of its population.

Young Black Bear on the Ardill Ranch. The broad Peace River Valley is a critical corridor for a wide range of species.
Young Black Bear on the Ardill Ranch. The broad Peace River Valley is a critical corridor for a wide range of species.
Roland Wilson is the chief of the West Moberly First Nation whose traditional territory and more than 330 archeological sites would be flooded by the dam.
Roland Wilson is the chief of the West Moberly First Nation whose traditional territory and more than 330 archeological sites would be flooded by the dam.

What is far less clear is why anyone would want to sacrifice all this for a dam which will cost tax payers over $8 billion dollars, flood the 83 kilometer heart of this valley, displace homes, farms, ranches, and families that have lived here for generations, destroy some of the richest agricultural in the north as well as destroy ancient First Nation burial and hunting grounds. All of this destruction is to produce electrical power which will not even be available for at least another decade, for which no viable market has been identified, and which will plunge British Columbians into debt.

Ken and Arlene Boon on a section of their farm which would be flooded by the proposed dam. The farm have been in Arlene's family for three generations.
Ken and Arlene Boon on a section of their farm which would be flooded by the proposed dam. The farm have been in Arlene’s family for three generations.

The people of the valley who are opposed to this project are not anti-dam or anti-development. The Super Cub I am shooting aerials from is piloted by Bob Fedderly, the founder and owner of a Fort St. John based transport and hauling company that caters to the needs of heavy industry. His company would likely benefit during the construction phase of the dam. His family originally moved to Hudson’s Hope in the valley because his father worked at the WAC Bennett Dam back in the early 1960’s when that dam was originally built. He has major concerns that the project would cripple business with inflated power costs, see real estate values in the community significantly drop, and that the project would result in massive cost over-runs.

Guy Armitage beekeeping along the banks of the Peace River in the Peace River Valley community of Hudson's Hope.
Guy Armitage beekeeping along the banks of the Peace River in the Peace River Valley community of Hudson’s Hope.

Time and again we hear the same story, if the case could be made that this power was truly needed and Site C was the best option, the farmers, families, ranchers, and First Nations say they could accept the sacrifice for the benefit of the province.

This is the third attempt to push through Site C. It has been proposed twice before and each time it was determined that it was too great an economic risk. The ecological and social costs however are a certainty. Once again, experts are denouncing the economic case and questioning the need for this extravagant project. The rich potential for less expensive and less disruptive alternatives like solar, geothermal, and natural gas-cogeneration have not even been considered. These are just some of the reasons why even high profile former proponents of the project are having second thoughts.

Nobel-winning climate scientist and Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver was with former premier Gordon Campbell when he announced plans to reprise the dam proposal four years ago. At the time he supported it. He recently stated, “Since that time I’ve learned an awful lot more both about the region and about other alternatives and I felt I had a responsibility, because I had spoken in favour of this, to admit I was wrong.”

For more information and to take action to protect the Peace river Valley, go to StopSiteC.org

Caroline and Derek Beam and their three children's home in the proposed flood zone. Caroline's family has lived in the valley for four generations. Her Great Grandmother lost the original family farm when it was flooded by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam built in the 1960's.
Caroline and Derek Beam and their three children’s home in the proposed flood zone. Caroline’s family has lived in the valley for four generations. Her Great Grandmother lost the original family farm when it was flooded by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam built in the 1960’s.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Yvan Parker
    Peace River, Alberta
    October 22, 2014, 5:54 pm

    Your Province has already destroyed our River called Peace River in Alberta, Your Premier has the nerve to mention dirty oil coming from Alberta
    She should be Ashamed yes and now another Dam set to be built,,, It’s amazing how B,C, can do whatever they want and have no Respect none whatsoever for Alberta , The Peace River in Alberta has been changed since the 60,s It will never be the same , It can never be repaired Thanks to B,C, Yes Shame on You British Columbia

  2. Molly
    October 7, 2014, 1:22 pm

    In reference to Jaz’s previous comment, I agree that the dam will create more harm than benefits for the people. It seems like, for such an expensive project, money could be spent on more environmentally friendly ways that won’t cause as severe of changes for the people living there, and also the animals that have habitats in that area.

  3. Jaz
    usa
    October 7, 2014, 1:01 pm

    I feel like this dam will do more harm than benefit people. Not only will animals that live in this area along with farmers have to deal with the change in available water it is also built for energy sources solely it seems when we know there are more environmentally friendly ways to get energy. If they need eight billion dollars to build a dam they won’t be able to get energy from for a decade environmentally friendly ways would make sense as you won’t have to wait a decade for energy and you won’t destroy the environment

  4. JM
    Chetwynd, BC
    September 29, 2014, 7:58 pm

    Building a dam and flooding that valley would have a HUGE carbon footprint actually. But arguing is useless and we have to figure this out individually because in all the so-called (and expensive) studies done… they did not check out the alternatives. The JRP determined that need for this dam and resulting power has not been proven. It’s all very wishy washy and perhaps tied more to appeasing big contractors/unions than needing electricity. We seem tied to a boom and bust mentality of business in BC and Canada. And the Peace is the last of the Wild West.

  5. Shannon
    Chetwynd BC
    September 28, 2014, 10:54 am

    The need for a clean energy that doesn’t create a carbon footprint has become a major concern for everyone in the world. BC does not burn coal to create energy because of these dams! Solar is not an option this far north for six months of the year! Wind farms cannot compete with the amount of volume a dam can produce. I believe that if you are reporting justly you should pan out on your photos and look at the whole region and look at how many places in this entire province and more are receiving clean energy because of this area.(or as clean as we can get)

  6. Mike
    Grande Prairie
    September 27, 2014, 9:20 pm

    Take the $8 billion and use it as a grant incentive and mandate that all new residential and commercial construction in BC utilize some form of alternative energy generation in its construction. Either solar or wind, etc.

  7. Andrea Morison
    Canada
    September 27, 2014, 12:45 pm

    In a time when many nations recognize the destruction caused by major dam projects and are busy tearing them down, British Columbia is thinking about building a mammoth one. Join us in telling our federal and provincial politicians that the planet is better served by protecting farmland, wildlife habitat, First Nations gravesites and other sites of cultural significance. There are far better and less expensive alternatives. Take action through http://www.StopSiteC.ca.