While the effects of large hydro projects (200 MW) have been well known and documented for over a century, small (up to 10 MW) and medium sized (10 MW to 200 MW) hydroelectric projects involve many of the same impacts per unit of power generated and, cumulatively, the environmental degradation can exceed that of large hydro projects. Small and medium sized hydro projects are situated on smaller and often more sensitive riverine ecosystems; however, like large hydro projects, will also alter the river’s flow regime and can have significant impacts on the aquatic environment, as flow is a major determinant of a river’s ecological characteristics and its aquatic biodiversity.
A recent study examined scaled hydropower impacts in the Nu River basin of southwestern China, where the researchers calculated impact per MW of capacity across 14 metrics between small and large hydropower projects (with small being below 50 MW as defined in Chinese policy). They found that small hydropower dams had greater impact per MW for 9 of the 14 metrics, including length of river channel affected and impact on habitat designated as conservation priorities.
Instead of exemptions or a more streamlined Class EAW, the OWA should be proposing amendments to provide for a much more rigorous and accountable process that ensures fish friendly turbines, effective and safe fish passage, a more rigorous cumulative effects assessment, and a more comprehensive and meaningful consultation process. We should be making our rivers more resilient in the face of climate change – not exempting waterpower projects from the Class EAW. Instead, the OWA and the Ontario government are placing our environment and communities at risk.
The ORA strongly objects to any approach that eliminates the opportunity for public and Indigenous consultation and input regarding any sewage and stormwater infrastructure projects, especially any expansions or upgrades when they could have a negative environmental impact on the riverine environment and communities.
The ORA is opposed to this proposal that would gut the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) and the Environmental Assessment (EA) program. Since the EAA was amended in 1996 there have been many official calls for an improved EAA and EA program, amongst those calls were the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario and the Auditor General of Ontario. Over this time, the EA program and EAA have become more and more streamlined, and this has led to increasing uncertainty for stakeholders and proponents.
Many individuals and groups embarking on the Part II Order process are new to it, have no legal assistance or background, and are unfamiliar with the terminology and rules; therefore, if we are truly aiming to provide help to the public it is extremely important that clear, succinct and concise instructions be provided in this policy/guidance document.
The Chair of the Ontario Rivers Alliance presented to the Expert Panel on the Review of the Environmental Assessment Process, on Thursday, 3 November 2016, in Sudbury, and also made a detailed written submission below:
Our experience in Ontario is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans defer to the will of the provincial regulators, which should be the other way around. We need our federal government to set a high standard that will be followed by the provincial players. Both the federal and provincial governments have gone through an intensive streamlining process which has undermined confidence in their ability to effectively review applications and Environmental Reports, let alone adequately monitor and enforce the conditions of approvals. Consequently, environmental protections have become very lacking in these streamlined and broken processes.
The Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA) was born out of 4 proposed Run-of-River Waterpower projects, using modified peaking, slated for the Vermilion River, in the District of Greater Sudbury, Ontario.
The challenges and frustration experienced while trying to engage the proponent to answer questions and provide information was the impetus for reaching out to other organizations dealing with these same issues on other rivers. It quickly became abundantly clear that this lack of public engagement and lack of cooperation was a common thread running throughout all the proposed dam projects.
There were also several obvious deficiencies with the current Environmental Assessment (EA) process as it relates to the numerous proposals for Waterpower projects throughout the Province of Ontario. Factors leading to this frustration with the EA process:
- A Proponent driven process from beginning to end – the Proponent calls all the shots;
- A FIT Contract has already been issued by the time stakeholders are made aware of the proposal;
- The EA process does not function to approve the project, only to mitigate any negative impacts;
- Community and the municipality do not have the power to refuse a proposed project or have meaningful input;
- A lack of transparency, cooperation and accountability on the part of the Proponent, MNR and MOE;
- A Lack of respect for the public’s right to know and participate in what should be, but is not, a democratic process;
- Important documents are withheld from stakeholders until the Notice of Completion is issued, at which time the public only has 30 days to comment on highly technical documents;
- A general shroud of secrecy pervades the entire EA process;
- In 10 years there have been 50 requests for an elevation to an Individual Environmental Assessment, and not one of these bump-up requests has been successful;
- No money up front by the developer for future decommissioning – so it will be left up to the taxpayer and our children to pay;
- Acts and Regulations are constantly changing to facilitate these green energy proposals through to approval; and
- No intervenor funding is available to these small groups and organizations who are working to protect the riverine ecosystems.
According to the Environmental Commissioner in his 2007 2008 Annual Report, “It would not be too forceful to say that Ontario’s EA process is broken. We have lost the old vision for EA, and a new vision is urgently needed.”; and “A no decision is not a possible outcome”. Many of the Acts and Regulations are changing to accommodate the “Open for Business” policy of the current government to facilitate the exploitation of our natural resources – especially those related to protecting and preserving our environment
It didn’t take too long to figure out that these dams would not be stopped through the normal EA process, so it became necessary to bring other groups and organizations together in order to share our experiences, expertise, knowledge, ideas and resources; and to create ONE BIG VOICE.
The ORA is founded on partnerships, so please consider partnering with us to build our VOICE so we will be heard and help bring some sense and sensibility back to the EA process and to ensure healthy river ecosystems!
Chair, Ontario Rivers Alliance
MOECC Decision Notice – 5 October 2016: Following the posting of the Proposal Notice on the Environmental Registry, the Ministry decided not to move forward with Coordinated Policy Guidance for Waterpower Projects after considering EBR comments and having discussions both internally and with stakeholders. MOECC continues to look for ways to modernize and improve approvals and permitting for Waterpower Projects in a way that is fully protective of human health and the environment.
MOECC Proposal: The proposed Coordinated Policy Guidance for Waterpower Projects has been developed by MNR and MOE to clarify roles and responsibilities. The proposed Guidance document provides clarification of Ministry specific roles and responsibilities for waterpower projects, in reviewing and issuing authorizations. This proposed policy guidance does not alter the powers or duties of either ministry in their administration of any Act or regulation. Ontario Rivers Alliance and Robert MacGregor made the following submissions on this posting: Continue reading
Did the support of 24 per cent of the electorate on election day give the federal government a mandate for its radical project to gut environmental protection? Apparently. In our apathy-inducing first-past-the-post political system a small minority can translate into a big majority, which can disregard public opinion and do whatever it wants.
Here is a list of what the feds have accomplished so far in their three-pronged environmental strategy of deregulation, cutting information and research and targeting dissenting voices:
- Eliminated Canada’s international commitment to mitigate climate change, including the repeal of the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
- Undermined global climate negotiations to avoid climate action.
- Failed to create a plan to address climate change.
- Eliminated energy conservation and efficiency and renewable energy funding while continuing subsidies to fossil fuels.
- Eliminated funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
- Eliminated the climate adaptation research group within Environment Canada.
- Eliminated scientists in Natural Resources Canada to study ice core data.
- Cut hundreds of millions of dollars from Environment Canada.
- Repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, weakening the federal environmental assessment process.
- Eliminated accepted criteria for compulsory environmental assessments, leaving such reviews to the discretion of the Minister of the Environment and political appointees.
- Eliminated the jobs of hundreds of scientists working for various government departments that focus on the environment and wildlife.
- Weakened elements of the Species at Risk Act.
- Amended the Species at Risk Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act to allow the National Energy Board to assume jurisdiction of endangered species or navigable waters in the way of any pipeline.
- Allowing the federal cabinet, rather than the National Energy Board, to make decisions about approvals for major pipeline projects.
- Introduced cuts to ozone monitoring.
- Ended monitoring of smoke stack emissions.
- Eliminated the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.
- Weakened the Fisheries Act in the areas of habitat protection and eliminated the marine contaminants program.
- Fired all DFO habitat officers in British Columbia.
- Killed the Navigable Waters Protection Act, replacing it with the Navigation Protection Act, which effectively makes major pipeline and interprovincial power line projects exempt from requirements for proponents to prove they wouldn’t damage navigable waterways.
- Reduced federal protection of waterways to a small number of water bodies and rivers.
- Parks Canada no longer has to conduct periodic environmental audits or management plan reviews.
- Eliminated funding for the National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment.
- Eliminated support for the Experimental Lakes Program.
- Eliminated funding for a dozen Arctic science research stations. Closed the Polar Arctic and Environmental Laboratory and the Yukon Research Lab.
- Started privatization and eliminated ecological staff positions in National Parks.
- Made a systemic effort to cut research, information and analysis with respect to environmental issues.
- Attacked environmental and First Nations organizations for critiquing resource development.
- Provided the Canada Revenue Agency with an extra $8 million to crack down on environmental charities.
- Provided oil companies with unprecedented access to senior government leaders.
- Muzzled government scientists who have been conducting research on various climate and environmental issues.
- Cut funding to the Network on Women’s Health and the Environment.
- Cut funding of the Canadian Environmental Network.
- In addition to changing the definition of “aboriginal fishery” in the Fisheries Act, without consulting First Nations governments introduced changes to the Indian Act designed to make it faster and easier for First Nations to “take advantage of economic opportunities” by leasing designated reserve lands based on a majority of votes from those in attendance at a meeting or in a referendum, instead of waiting for a majority vote from all eligible voters.
- Gave the aboriginal affairs minister the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering a surrender of the band’s territory.
- The minister can accept or refuse the land designation after receiving a resolution from the band council.
- Eliminated the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, the Indian Head Tree Nursery and the PFRA pasture management program on millions of acres of sensitive grasslands.
- Provided unprecedented support to industries to exploit natural resources with minimal environmental oversight.
ORA supports the grassroots Idle No More protest by First Nations and other Canadians against the federal government’s Omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45 and all affected legislation which have threatened our land and water and put First Nations’ treaty rights in grave danger. Our major environmental legislation has been gutted, including the critically important Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Our fresh water and healthy river ecosystems are of vital importance for the future of all First Nations and Canadians.
“All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water and we welcome Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities.”
ORA stands in solidarity with First Nations. We are all treaty people.