Open Letter on the Health Impacts of the Site C dam

Site C Dam Garth Lenz-9761

(photo source: DeSmog.ca)

To: The Honourable John Horgan, Premier, the Honourable Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Honourable George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and the Honourable Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, BC Cabinet Ministers, and Andrew Weaver, MLA

From: BC chapter of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Re: The Health Impacts of Site C

We are writing regarding the Site C dam project. We feel compelled to express that this project is not in the interests of public good or public health in BC and for that reason should not be allowed to proceed.

We thank the government for initiating the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) Inquiry into the Site C dam to gather expert and public evidence, as well as First Nations opinions and insights.  The resulting report has stated it is unlikely B.C. will need the energy from the Site C dam, calling previous projections “excessively optimistic” noting that it is possible that demand might be lower than the lowest demand scenario used by BC Hydro. Additionally, the commissioners feel that it is unlikely the Site C project will be on time or on budget [1].

We feel that your government should respect the findings of the appointed regulator with oversight of these matters for many reasons, particularly in light of the continued, broad-based opposition from First Nations, farmers, Amnesty International and academic scientists.

This mega-project will further disrupt and displace First Nations who have lived in the Peace River Valley for thousands of years.  A joint federal-province environmental impact assessment concluded it would “severely undermine use of the land, make fishing unsafe for at least a generation, and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.” [2] Amnesty International currently has a petition on-line signed by over 70,000 Canadians asking for a halt to Site C because it is grossly unfair to Canada’s First Nations. In their report it is stated:

“Intensive resource development in northeast BC has created a lot of high wage jobs in the region. But the rapid pace of development and the necessity of bringing in thousands upon thousands of temporary and transient workers to fill these jobs has also created serious social problems that are not being properly dealt with. Problems like a severe housing shortage, a shortage of doctors, and a shortage of quality, affordable day care. Problems like an enormous gulf in wages between women and men. Problems like rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Problems like overstretched police forces and underfunded and overworked social service agencies.” [3]

Currently, most industrial projects in northeast B.C. are assessed without regard for other past, present or future impacts. Studies from UNBC [4] and SFU [5] have identified that the cumulative effects of intense industrial development, including “two large-scale hydroelectric dams, 11 mines (gold-copper, coal), 8,000 oil and gas well sites, eight wind farms, various support facilities, 10,000 pipelines, numerous power lines, and smaller uses such as agriculture and guide-outfitting” erode Indigenous rights, mental health and traditional ways of life and culture.

 

A 2014 report by the David Suzuki Foundation outlines the concerns that the area flooded by Site C has been recognised as a continental-scale conservation priority for the habitat of endangered species such as caribou, grizzlies, and other large migratory animals [6]. This ecological destruction and loss of traditional food sources will have great impacts on life for the culture and way of life of First Nations Peoples. These massive alterations of natural landscape are known to evoke a powerful sense of solastalgia, a term that connotes a sense of painful loss of one’s home, while still living in it [4].

 

Farmland in BC is under constant threat from development, while approximately 12% of BC households are experiencing food insecurity [7], putting children and adults at risk for malnutrition, chronic disease, and depression. At the same time, because of climate change, the areas we most depend on for foods are experiencing disruptive new weather patterns. It makes very little sense then to flood farmland that could potentially feed one quarter of BC’s population [8] with healthy produce, farmland centred in an area of the province where food insecurity is high.

Further, on an economic note, the David Suzuki Foundation estimates that the dollar value of the farmland and nature ecosystem services provided by the Peace River Watershed are conservatively worth between $7.9 and $8.6 Billion per year [6].

Despite the previous government’s relentless promotion of Site C as “clean energy”, recent science calls into question how clean hydroelectricity really is [9].

Hydroelectric dams result in the generation of huge amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas, approximately 40-times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years, when these dams result in the flooding of large tracts of fertile land. The Peace Valley contains agricultural land of the richest and highest quality in the province. The Union of Concerned Scientists have calculated that other forms of alternative energy, such as solar[10, 11], are much cleaner than hydroelectricity.

If the need for hydroelectric energy arises in the future, the BCUC has suggested the province amend the Clean Energy Act, and consider the use of electricity available under the Columbia River Treaty [12]. This option was explicitly and deliberately ignored by the previous government.

Concern has been expressed about the loss of jobs associated with this project. At the BCUC hearings, representatives of the Sierra Club suggested money saved from stopping dam construction should go to training workers into sustainable energy or other industries that specifically provide more long-term job stability. In addition, a 2016 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has outlined how a major push for public and private retrofitting and transit expansion could create thousands of long-term, well-paying jobs and expand the cheapest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas production energy conservation [13].

For all of these reasons, we believe that the BC government should not go forward with the Site C dam.

Finally, we repeat our recommendation that the BC government undertake a comprehensive and cumulative health impact assessment of BC’s energy systems, its energy exports, and alternative energy scenarios. The absence of such health-related information means that BC will be making energy policy decisions based on incomplete information, thereby possibly adversely affecting the health of the citizens of BC.

Sincerely,

The BC members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

References:

[1] British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority – British Columbia Utilities Commission Inquiry Respecting Site C – Project No. 1598922 – Final ReportBC Utilities Report http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/4165304/BCUC-Site-C-Inquiry-Final-Report-1-Nov-2017.pdf

[2] Review Panel Established by the Federal Minister of the Environment and the British Columbia Minister of the Environment. Report of the Joint Review Panel – Site C Clean Energy Project. 1 May 2014. P. 102.

 [3] Amnesty International (2016). The Point of No return: The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples In Canada Threatened by the Site C Dam. https://www.amnesty.ca/sites/amnesty/files/Canada%20Site%20C%20Report.pdf

[4] Booth, AL and Skelton, NW. (2011). “You spoil everything!’’ Indigenous peoples

and the consequences of industrial development in British Columbia. Environ Dev Sustain.

[5] Gislason, MK and Anderson, HK. (2016). The Interacting Axes of Environmental, Health, and Social Justice Cumulative Impacts: A Case Study of the Blueberry River First Nations. Healthcare (Baseline).

[6] Moola, Faisal. (2017). David Suzuki Foundation, Presentation to Site C Inquiry Panel October 13th 2017

http://www.sitecinquiry.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/00542_F87-2_DavidSuzukiFoundation_SiteC_Submissions.pdf

[7] Public health Services Authourity (2013). British Columbia Houshold Food Insecurity  in 2011-2012. http://www.phsa.ca/population-public-health-site/Documents/Household%20food%20insecurity%20in%20BC_prov%20infographic.pdf

[8] http://commonsensecanadian.ca/peace-valleys-extraordinary-agricultural-values-threatened-site-c-dam/

[9] Magill, B (2014). Methane Emission May Swell from Behind dams. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/methane-emissions-may-swell-from-behind-dams/?WT.mc_id=send-to-friend

[10] Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). Environmental Impacts of Solar Power. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-solar-power.html#.WiCHEo9SyUl

[11] Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power.html#.WiCI2o9SyUk

[12] McCullough, Robert (2017). Report: Costs of Continuing Site C and the Alternatives.

http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1694d3_6a1be3ba4b4441c385e82ab4beca9831.pdf

[13] Klein, S. (2016) A Good Jobs Economy in BC. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC%20Office/2016/02/CCPA-BC_Good-Jobs-Ideas.pdf

For more information on health issues in BC and Canada see cape.ca

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