ORA submits that the MECP’s priority must be the pursuit of its Statement of Environmental Values (SEV), and its vision and mandate of “an Ontario with clean and safe air, land and water that contributes to healthy communities, ecological protection, and environmentally sustainable development for present and future generations”[i]. There is nothing in the MECP’s SEV that promises to “remove the regulatory burden” from industry or “provide some cost savings for dam owners and operators”. It is not the MECP’s duty to save dam owners and operators money or ease their regulatory burden. Its duty is to fulfill its Mandate to protect the environment and to follow its promise of environmentally sustainable development for our present and future generations. Certainly, MECP’s priority should not be to cut regulatory burden at the expense of our air, land and water. It is a tragedy that today’s cost savings for dam owners and operators will be borne on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
Wetlands are among the most productive and diverse habitats on Earth. They provide incalculable benefits for communities, including flood mitigation, water filtration, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, wild foods and medicines, recreational opportunities and more. They are also of immense economic value. For example, wetlands can reduce the financial costs of floods by up to 38 percent; in the Great Lakes region the benefits provided by wetlands are worth 13 to 35 times more than the cost of protecting or restoring them; and in southern Ontario alone wetlands provide over $14 billion dollars in benefits every year.
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.
ORA is very concerned about the extreme deregulation that occurred with the recent waterpower exemption to the Permit to Take Water, and in this new Mercury Regulation where new and significantly redeveloped electricity producing dams have not been addressed. These important legislative requirements were designed to ensure hydroelectric facilities are held accountable for environmental and socio-economic impacts and risks to communities and riverine ecosystems.
The effects of dams and hydroelectric facilities on fish populations and fisheries have been well documented over the past century and include the loss or serious decline of many iconic fish species, which are resources of importance to Ontario’s economy, biodiversity, and natural and cultural heritage.
Since 1963 the Little Long Generating Complex on the Lower Mattagami River in Northern Ontario has been the source of an environmental crisis of immeasurable proportions. Thousands of Lake Sturgeon have been entrained through spillway gates and left stranded waiting to be captured and relocated back to their adopted man-made habitat, leaving waters not fit for survival. Adam Creek Spillway is well known province-wide as a thorn in hydro electric energy and should not be defined or qualified as GREEN energy.
ORA also objects to Ontario ratepayers and/or taxpayers having to subsidize electricity pricing and capital expenditures for industry and private corporations. This Strategy focuses only on the economic benefits of doubling the harvest, without looking at the trade-offs or balancing that with equal measures to maintain a healthy environment. This is the only way to maintain the claim of sustainable forest management in Ontario.
With the warming temperatures and extreme rain and drought events that climate change is predicted to bring with increasing frequency and intensity as time passes, decision makers and legislators bear a responsibility to strengthen freshwater protection and resiliency – not weaken it. If this proposal moves forward it will be a precipitous turning point for our future with freshwater in Ontario and beyond.
You will find ORA’s submissions regarding Bill 132 here.
Check out ORA’s speech to the Standing Committee on General Government: Continue reading
With climate change impacts bearing down on us, decision makers have a responsibility to ensure the resiliency of our freshwater resources. If this proposal moves forward it will be a precipitous turning point for our future with freshwater in Ontario and beyond.