Comment: The mysterious push to make Site C happen

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan says his government’s year-end decision to proceed with or terminate Site C will be “a difficult one.” Seriously? The B.C. Utilities Commission’s Nov. 1 report on the economics of Site C was clear: Site C makes no economic sense as an energy project.

And when you consider the impact of the dam on non-energy sectors, the right decision becomes even more obvious.

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Take, for example, food.

The farmland to be flooded by the Site C dam has the productive capacity, if planted to fresh vegetable crops, to meet the nutritional needs of more than a million people a year, in perpetuity. This is of significance on a policy level because B.C. depends on California and Mexico for more than half of the vegetables we could produce here.

B.C. has the highest child-poverty rate in Canada. Canada’s Nutrition North program has been described as an abject failure. Single mums can’t buy veggie-flavoured chips for their kids — humans need fresh vegetables. Poverty is the single most dominant predictor of poor health outcomes in later life because of its impact on nutrition.

The Peace River Valley to be flooded by the Site C dam is nature’s greengrocer — the only area with significant fresh horticulture expansion capacity in the province. Closer to the Lower Mainland and much closer to northern communities, these alluvial soils in a Class 1 climate have the same cropping capability as the Fraser Valley, with higher yields due to long periods of summer daylight. The Peace River Valley is important to food security and resilience.

Why, given all the good reasons to stop it, is the Site C dam so pervasive? Why does it seem as if there are forces pushing from every direction to make it happen?

Two reasons, I would say. First, as David Schindler, University of Alberta professor emeritus and respected Canadian expert on dams and their impact, lays out so well in his chapter in our upcoming book on Site C, Canada’s climate-change strategy is tied to the building of hydroelectric dams — lots of them.

What kind of land will they flood? Valley bottomland — our best agricultural soils. And whose land will they flood? Land belonging to the future, to those yet unborn; much of it First Nations’ land.

And why will they flood it? So big industry does not have to cut back on emissions, which they would otherwise have to do without Canada’s “clean energy” dams. In short, a policy of flooding the land to pollute the sky.

And who is it that says that dams are “green” (worthy of emission-reduction credits) anyway? Those who would profit from their construction, of course. And also those who would profit from the commodity they deliver — water.

Water is the second reason why Site C is so pervasive. Remember the old game of Snakes and Ladders?

This continental game of Snakes and Ladders — and the dams and pipelines and diversions that hook it all up — will deliver northern water to a thirsty U.S.

Just look at Site C — it’s on the drawing board of every engineering company that has looked at continental water sharing. Why? Because it’s the only route to bring northern water east of the Rockies. The Peace River Valley was placed under statutory flood reserve in the late 1950s — right after Washington added “make sure America doesn’t run out of water” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to-do list.

There are far better options.

To unleash the potential of these lands, we need to grow young farmers. Lift the shadow of the dam (there since the late 1950s suppressing production) and let’s encourage B.C. and maybe Alberta universities to acquire land from B.C. Hydro and form a world-class education co-op. It could offer cutting-edge organic production experience to grads and the option to stay on and farm as a grower member of the co-op after a one- or two-year practicum. There is already a physical structure there that could be repurposed to house it.

Tell Horgan if he thinks this is a hard decision, he is not framing the question properly. Energy is but one aspect. There are many more areas of great public importance that will be negatively affected by the dam. It’s not just about B.C. Hydro ratepayers, it’s about taxpayers and future generations.

The Peace Valley is our foodland commons. It is not the government’s to destroy.

Wendy Holm of Bowen Island, is a retired agrologist who evaluated the agricultural impact of the Site C dam, providing testimony as an expert witness before the joint federal-provincial review panel. She is editor (and contributing author) of a new book on Site C to be released by Lorimer Publishers in early 2018.

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