The contractor building the Site C hydroelectric dam in B.C. pleaded guilty to one charge of releasing contaminated water into the Peace River on the same day the megaproject hit a big milestone.

Peace River Hydro Partners has been ordered to pay $1.1 million for releasing 3.3 million litres of contaminated wastewater into the Peace River, according to an update from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The incident occurred in September 2018, when heavy rainfall led to the release of contaminated drainage water, which was found to contain a concentration of aluminum “that was acutely lethal to fish.” Depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish is a violation of the federal Fisheries Act.

In addition to the fine, Peace River Hydro Partners will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry, which contains information on instances when corporations have committed offences under certain federal environmental laws. The $1.1-million fine will go into the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which redirects money from court penalties and settlements to projects that repair environmental damage.

On July 31, the very same day the contractor pleaded guilty to this charge, BC Hydro announced the Site C project hit a “major milestone” with the completion of the earthfill dam.

aerial view of a dam
The earthfill dam is about 60 metres tall, stretches more than a kilometre across the Peace River and is about 500 metres wide at its base, according to BC Hydro. Completion of the earthfill dam is one of the key steps required before the Site C reservoir is filled. The Site C Dam is located on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. Photo from BC Hydro photo gallery

Completing the earthfill dam is “one of the essential milestones required before filling the Site C reservoir,” according to BC Hydro. The earthfill dam will direct water from the Peace River to a channel that leads to the powerhouse where it will generate power. BC Hydro is aiming to start filling the reservoir this fall, but noted there are some project components that still need to be completed (for example, spillways, dam intake structures and certain components of the powerhouse).

The Site C dam is located in northeastern B.C., about 14 kilometres southwest of Fort St. John. When the reservoir is filled, approximately 55.5 square kilometres of land will be flooded, including Indigenous burial grounds, traditional hunting and fishing areas, fertile farmland and important wildlife habitat along the Peace River and its tributaries.

The megaproject’s price tag is currently an estimated $16 billion — nearly double its original estimate of $8.8 billion in 2014 — and BC Hydro aims for it to be operational in 2025. When operational, Site C will produce 1,100 megawatts of electricity each year — the equivalent of powering 450,000 homes, according to the provincial Crown corporation. Along with rising costs, it has been plagued with political and technical problems.

The contractor building the #SiteC hydroelectric dam in B.C. pleaded guilty to 1 charge of releasing contaminated water into the Peace River on the same day the megaproject hit a big milestone. Peace River Hydro Partners must pay a $1.1 million fine

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has continually opposed the project, as have many environmental organizations and Indigenous communities. West Moberly First Nations has been fighting the project for decades in court but last summer reached a partial settlement, effectively ending a civil claim that argues the construction of Site C is a violation of its Treaty 8 rights.

A statement issued June 27, 2022, by West Moberly First Nations explained the project is so far along, it's unlikely any judge would order the dam be dismantled, so they “reluctantly agreed to settle that portion of our court case related to Site C.”

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Keep reading

It's funny, I remember an article in the Sun about 2016, by a guy who'd actually been on the utilities commission, arguing that Site C would never be able to sell any electricity at $60/MWh; no market.

Now, it's barely going to be enough for the eVs, much less the new heat pumps.