Peace and plenty: Why B.C. should not build the Site C dam

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It’s a sight that few Vancouverites have seen, a gem of a valley hidden away amidst the boreal forest in the far northeastern corner of the province.

Photos

As you crest the rise on Route 29 from Hudson’s Hope, a panoramic vista opens of the valley below. The Peace River meanders in languid loops through a patchwork of ploughed fields, water meadows, and stands of huge cottonwoods. You can almost hear the steady murmur of the current, hundreds of feet below.

Even if the extent of your involvement in the local food movement is plucking a ripe tomato or two from a pot on the patio, the sheer exuberance of growth would set your green thumbs a-pricking. The lushness of crops and the size of cottonwoods that line the river attest to the richness of the alluvial soil. Add the long growing days of northern summers and a unique microclimate, and you’re looking at some of B.C.’s best farmland.

“The productivity of the agricultural land in the Peace River Valley is incredible: it is unique not only in the Peace River region, but in British Columbia and Western Canada,” says soil scientist Eveline Wolterson, who gave expert testimony in the review process for the proposed Site C dam.

Forget Delta and Langley. Forget the Okanagan. Farmers in the Peace Valley report yields that are unheard of elsewhere in B.C. The Peace Valley is the only place in northern B.C. that is able to produce heat-loving crops such as cantaloupes, cucumbers, and peppers. According to agrologist Wendy Holm, also an expert witness in the Site C hearings, the land to be flooded by Site C is capable of producing high-yielding fruits and vegetables for over a million people.

That’s right. A million—a quarter of the B.C. population. Every year. Forever.

And the B.C. government wants to flood this land?

This summer, California is grappling with the greatest water loss ever seen, coming after several years of persistent drought that has especially impacted the fertile Central Valley. With farmland going out of production and the consequent loss of employment, the 2014 drought will cost the state’s agriculture sector US$2 billion, a fraction of what it would have been without tapping into deep underground aquifers, clearly a short-term solution. And there won’t be any “back to normal” either: scientists expect California’s drought conditions to worsen as climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns.

When that happens we’d better be prepared. Sooner rather than later.

Don’t flood B.C.’s Plan B

British Columbia currently imports 56 percent of our fruits and vegetables, much of it from California. Loss of productive capacity in California and other southwestern states due to ongoing megadrought is only a small part of the global food impacts climate change is expected to deliver in the coming decades.

Some California farmers are already letting land under fruit and vegetables stand idle, while lavishing precious water on high profit-yielding crops such as nuts and vineyards.

As dwindling supply sends prices soaring, the hardest hit will be the most vulnerable, those below or just above the poverty line. Fresh fruit and vegetables may well become an occasional luxury rather than an abundant daily staple for B.C.’s low- and middle-income families.

The land to be flooded by the Site C dam could produce fruits and vegetables for over a million people.
Caspar Davis

There is a solution. B.C. should nix the dam and embrace Plan B: nurture the growth of a robust horticulture sector in the Peace Valley with processing and distribution hubs for added value and jobs.

In May 2014 the federal review panel found that the proposed Site C dam would have significant adverse effects on First Nations, on wildlife, and the Peace River region as a whole. While the panel didn’t make recommendations either for or against the project, the report cast doubt on B.C. Hydro’s business case, and concluded that B.C. Hydro failed to demonstrate the need for the power.

Holm puts it in a nutshell: “There are many alternatives to choose from when it comes to energy sources; but there are no alternatives to fruits and vegetables. Only fruits and vegetables are fruits and vegetables.”

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Rational Observer
So an employee of the Sierra club who lives in Victoria opposes a dam in the interior? What a shock. The idea for an horticultural hub is absurd fantasy, and no doubt the same person proposing it would oppose efforts to create viable transportation links. Build the dam: hydro power is efficient, reliable and the bedrock of power generation in BC. Site C should have been built years ago but it won't be a white elephant. Power consumption will increase and cheap power is good for everyone in the Province.
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Soil Scientist
You can't replace lost agricultural land or land with high environmental values, but you can replace lost power - there are alternatives.

People should also be aware that hydroelectric power is not green, provides power outside of our peak demand periods, and doesn't last forever. Flooded valleys generate enormous amounts of methane, a green house gas with a 20-fold greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. We have plenty of power, outside of peak demands during winter and in urban centres - both which Site C cannot reliably provide. Further, BC Hydro's estimated life span of Site C is 50 - 100 years - after that we have a reservoir with no value other than recreational boating and for storing water. Storing water may be Site C's dirty little secret - water for fracking or for sale outside of BC...
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Lee L
I like the idea of leaving the Peace as agricultural land.
Build a nuclear power facility instead. We'll then have power and flour.

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John Longfellow
Shoddy journalism infers the entire valley will be flooded when in fact they are only widening the river's width by 50%. Nice attempt to helicopter in your jnchecked viewpoint from Victoria.
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Ravinder Subha
99% of agricultural land to be unaffected by site C. Looks like we'll be able to still feed 990,000 people. I'm looking forward to energy sustainability in BC as well as food sustainability.
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Martin Cavin
"Rational Observer" is not that rational, being bamboozled by Hydro's propaganda. Hydro power is reliable? Look at the record drought in California. Lake Mead, the reservoir feeding Hoover dam, IS AT ITS LOWEST LEVEL SINCE THE DAM WAS BUILT. Won't happen here because Hydro says so?

The Peace is also subject to ice dams which severely curtails output from GMS and PCN. This happens during Hydro's peak load season. Site C would be similarly impacted. So much for reliability.

Site C is nowhere near the Lower Mainland major load center. Long transmission lines are subject to solar flares, earthquakes, ice storms, forest fires and line losses. Ask Montreal about their 1998 ice storm which blacked out the city for weeks due to the loss of transmission lines.

The power is only "cheap" if the dam runs continuously. The major expense is the interest on the $8 billion capital cost. At 3% that's $240 million/yr, WHICH KEEPS ACCUMULATING EVEN IF THE POWER IS NOT NEEDED. If a $1.5 billion gas power plant were built instead, annual fuel cost would be max. $150 million/yr at today's gas prices ($4/GJ). If the power is not needed no money is spent on fuel. Given the uncertainty around future load growth, this option carries much less risk. But Hydro doesn't tell you that. Lastly, a gas plant could be built much closer to the load center, eliminating the vulnerability of long transmission lines.
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Twelve foot Davis
I live in the town of peace river, build it in your own backyard if you want it!
We don't want it or the Nuke plant so FUCK OFF!
Is that "Straight" enough for you city pricks!
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Lou
So what is Plan B? Surely the government and BCH have a contingency plan, or two? This has been a snow job from the start as they never publicly investigated the alternatives.
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