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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.orgCaroline 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.