Wendy Holm: Why all the fuss over the Site C dam?

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      By Wendy Holm

      Tucked away as it is on the Peace River in the north, far from the day-to-day notice of most British Columbians, many can be forgiven for not being "up to speed" on the Site C dam.

      As a professional agrologist (now retired) who undertook an agricultural evaluation of Site C as part of the environmental-impact assessment process, I can assure you Site C is super important. To all British Columbians.

      Site C is not a done deal. Although the government is trying to quickly get it "to the point of no return", it’s not there yet. Now is the time to stop it. 

      My name is Wendy Holm* and I am asking you to listen up for just a moment. Or two… Okay, five moments at most…

      You’ve heard from the energy community that Site C makes no economic sense. The chair of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency–Environmental Assessment Office panel has come out against it. You’ve heard warnings from many in the financial community that Site C will run well over budget, threatening to bankrupt the province.

      To understand Site C’s impact on food, food-security, nutrition, community resilience, and sovereignty, there are only five things you need to know.  

      Yes it’s true: the nutritional requirements of over one million people a year could be met by fresh fruit and vegetables produced in the fertile alluvial soils of the east-west running Peace River Valley that would be flooded by the Site C dam. I know because I did the math. And the research. The numbers were extracted from B.C. Hydro’s own figures, prepared for the B.C. Utilities Commission hearings into Site C back in the 1980s. 

      As a witness before the 2014 hearings, I presented "expert testimony" on its impact on agriculture to the CEAA/EAO joint federal-provincial panel. The Peace River Valley, with its alluvial soils and class one microclimate, can produce the full range of crops grown in the Fraser Valley, with higher yields due to long summer daylight. It is the only large tract of land for future horticultural expansion in the province. It is unique.

      B.C. is vegetable-deficient—67 percent of B.C. vegetables are imported, mostly from drought-plagued California.

      Vancity’s recent food study, Wake Up Call: California Drought and B.C.’s Food Security, predicts annual vegetable price increases of 25 percent. The Peace Valley is closer to the Fraser Valley than is California’s Central Valley, and far closer than Mexico. 

      The Peace Valley is also much closer to communities in northern B.C., the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Its families are struggling under what then opposition Liberal MP and current Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has called the "abject failure" of Canada’s Nutrition North program.

      Fruits and vegetables are the essential building bocks of nutrition. If fruits and vegetables are not available and affordable, nutrition suffers. Early childhood nutrition is the most important determinant of health in life. 

      According to Statistics Canada (Food Insecurity in Canada), one in 12 Canadian households experienced food insecurity (due to lack of money) during 2011-2012. In single-parent families, almost one in four households—three times the national average—are food insecure. B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in the nation. And when families don’t have enough income to put fruits and vegetables on the table, children’s health suffers.

      Then there is the end game—water. Site C on the Peace River was planned at the same time as dams along the Columbia River—after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with ensuring America "never runs out of water" and set about mapping Canada’s water resources. Every engineering plan put in the table shows only two routes to divert coastal runoff water from the north into rivers in the south: the Columbia River (to bring it west of the Rockies) and the Peace River (to bring it east of the Rockies). 

      The thing about 100-year plans is when worrisome things don’t happen right away, people stop paying attention. But money, like a patient cat, never takes its eyes off the prize. The free-trade agreement with the United States and the subsequent North American Free Trade Agreement got rid of the messy sovereignty issues.

      Once B.C. Hydro is turned over to private-sector interests, all will be in place.Site C may provide energy and water for fracking in the medium term. In the long term, that water will have a far higher value.Check out this recent U.S. campaign video called End American Drought.

      A U.S. campaign video shows why some Americans are eyeing Canadian water resources.

      There is enough evidence and smoking guns around Site C to demand transparency and a public process because this decision will have irreversible consequences for all of us.

      Site C Dam on the Peace River is not a "done deal". 

      Next Saturday (July 9), you can help those of us on the front lines (Fort St John) and at ground zero in the Lower Mainland to demand a halt to all work on this project until Site C is referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission and given the public scrutiny it deserves.

      Three events for those who want to fight Site C

      1. On Saturday (July 9), paddlers and supporters will gather for a solidarity march, paddle, and community event with speakers, kayactivists, music, and more! Meet at Vanier Park at 12:30. Those with kayaks, boats, and stand-up paddleboards should come at noon. There will be a flotilla and march to Kits Beach. 

      2. Paddle in collaboration with the Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, and Pauquachin Nations of Saanich Inlet. It's a protest against the proposed Steelhead LNG facility. Site C is the engine of the LNG industry so on July 9, we’ll paddle and gather in solidarity with indigenous people. 

      3. There will also be a salmon barbecue and public event with the Sechelt First Nation (donation of $20) in solidarity with Paddle for the Peace.

      Start your summer off right! Stand up for democracy and community engagement. Grab a paddle. Join others in your community. Tell Victoria and Ottawa how you feel about Site C. Start something big. Take your children. Have fun. Show them how it’s done!

      Wendy Holm is a professional agrologist (retired), an award-winning national columnist, a double Queen’s medalist, a distinguished UBC alumna, past president of the B.C. Institute of Agrologists. and B.C. Agrologist of the Year in 2000.  She provided expert testimony before the CEEA/EAO Joint Federal Provincial Panel on the agricultural impact of the Site C project.