Photo by Linda HeronPhoto Credit

Vermilion River – 4 Proposed Hydro-electric Dams

At Soo Crossing, Vermilion River

The Vermilion River Stewardship was formed to deal with several challenges that are presently facing the Vermilion River and its Watershed.

River Concerns:

  • Four proposed Run-of-River Waterpower Projects
  • 9 Waste Water Treatment Facilities, 3 holding ponds, 1 tailings pond, and lift stations dumping treated, undertreated and untreated effluent into the Vermilion River Watershed.
  • Mining development creating effluent discharge and pollution
  • Algae and Cyanobacteria
  • Invasive Species, such Eurasian Watermilfoil

As you can see, the Vermilion River Stewardship is dealing with several challenges, however, the most pressing and urgent at the moment are the four proposed waterpower projects presently going through the Environmental Assessment (EA) process.  This report will focus on these challenges.

Waterpower Proposals – Summary of Projects

 Four proposed run-of-river dams, with “modified peaking”, at McPherson Falls, Cascade Falls, Soo Crossing, & Wabagishik Rapids.  Total of approx. 9 km of head ponds proposed for these four sites.  There are also two additional potential waterpower sites which were list in the 2005 “Ontario Waterpower Potential”, by Hatch Acres – these are located at CP Rail Crossing and Island Rapids.

Description of the Issues

The Notice of Commencement indicates “The proposed waterpower generating stations will generate clean, green, renewable energy at a total installed capacity of approximately 11.8 MW.”  “Installed capacity” is what the generator is capable of generating, however, with annual river flow variations, the actual amount of power generated will be about 50 to 55% of that amount.

McPherson, Cascade and At Soo Crossing are all relatively close to one another, and located near the base of Cascade Falls is the Vale Drinking Water Intake which feeds drinking water to 13,000 people in Lively, Copper Cliff, Naughton and Whitefish.

These 3 proposed dam sites are slated for 8 km of combined head ponds (no information on how many square km this will affect), and the proponent has indicated they will be treated as one interconnected system, and handled under EA.  It is our position that, because of the extensive inundation, and with the public water intake located right in the middle of these combined head ponds, that this EA should be bumped up to an Individual Class EA to properly assess their “cumulative effects”.   To date there is no Project Description (PD) for these sites.

The final proposed dam in the series would be located at Wabagishik Rapids, and this is the only project to date with a PD.  This proposal calls for a 1 km head pond running the full length of the rapids, which would effectively destroy a very beautiful and scenic stretch of the Vermilion River.  These rapids currently provide habitat for an active Walleye and Bass spawning area, and this would be lost to the barrier of the dam and head pond.

Run of river dams with modified peaking are not Green Energy.   These types of hydroelectric dams which store water for peak demand hours have MNR and Environment Canada studies and reports indicating significant negative impacts on water quality and quantity, including warming of water temperatures, lowering of dissolved oxygen, higher nitrogen and phosphorus levels, presence of methyl mercury, and damage to aquatic life and the entire ecosystem.   Also, the Vermilion River Watershed has been at the heart of mining industry for over 100 years, and the river bottom silt must be analyzed to determine what heavy metals and toxins will be stirred up and deposited into our drinking water and ecosystem.

These green washed waterpower dams will bring profits to Big Business, and short-term employment to the Community, but very few permanent jobs, as these dams will be computer controlled; and

  • At what cost to aquatic life and to the entire river ecosystem; and
  • What legacy will we leave behind for future generations?

Endangered Species and Species at Risk are:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Elk
  • Lake Sturgeon
  • Whip-poor-will
  • Chimney Swift
  • Common Nighthawk
  • Olive-sided flycatcher
  • Bobolink
  • Canada warbler
  • Massasauga Rattler
  • Milk Snake
  • Snapping turtle
  • Blanding’s turtle
  • Wood turtle
  • Monarch butterfly

This is a fully Proponent led process, and it is at their discretion what, and when, information will be shared.   It is not in the best interests of the Proponent to share information, and yet the MNR and MOE say they cannot share pertinent information because it is at the discretion of the Proponent to decide what information to share. Consequently the Stakeholder is left completely in the dark and has no access to vital project information.

The proponent has answered very few of the Stewardship’s questions to date, has proceeded with the EA process, and yet has not been awarded an Applicant of Record or Site Release for any of the proposed sites.  The proponent has also held Public Information Meetings and displayed maps showing proposed roads and transmission lines, and yet has not contacted affected Stakeholders to inform, or to negotiate the use of these privately owned lands.  It was at this public meeting that several landowners discovered their properties and private roads were intended to be used by the proponent.

Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario, in his 2007-2008 Annual Report, stated,

  • “It would not be too forceful to say that Ontario’s EA process is broken”
  • “A “No” decision is not a possible outcome.”

Today, the MNR and MOE’s main role is to facilitate processing of the applications and to mitigate any potential concerns for the environment and ecosystem.   This is not a transparent and stakeholder friendly process.

The Vermilion River Stewardship’s concerns are many, but if the EA process is broken, and “No” is not an option; and MNR and MOE’s role are diminished to facilitating these projects, then who is out there effectively protecting our environment and natural resources?

  • Transparency of process is absent
  • Information and details of projects are not available for public scrutiny
  • Public consultation process is not sufficient or effective
  • Proponent holds all the cards, and the Fox is in charge of the Chicken Coop!
  • We have lost our democracy

There must be major reform to MNR, MOE, and the EA and Site Release process.

There must be a moratorium on Waterpower development in Ontario until such time as the “cumulative effects” of these numerous dams being proposed across Ontario can be scientifically examined and assessed for their environmental impacts.

What the reader can do about it?

Educate yourself on the Project at Xeneca’s website – Project Page – Vermilion.

Make a request to Nickel District Conservation Authority to exercise their powers under the Conservation Authority Act, Section 28(1), which prevents anyone from interfering with public drinking water.

Express your Concerns to:

Complete ORA Petition Letter at Ontario Rivers (soon to be posted).

When Notice of Completion is issued by Proponent, write to the MOE to request a Part II Order to bump up to an Individual Environmental Assessment – to be posted on

Exercise your rights at election time – make your views known to Provincial candidates, especially those running for the Premiere’s Office.

  1. Contact Linda Heron, Chair, Vermilion River Stewardship at
  2. Groups & Organizations can join Ontario Rivers Alliance at to help create ONE BIG VOICE.

Photographs – Misema River Dam – by a former incarnation of Xeneca – Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation.


Misema River - Before Hydro Facility

Misema River – Before Hydro Facility

Misema River - After Hydro Facility

Misema River – After Hydro Facility

Wabagishik - 28 Sept. 2012 083

Wabagishik Rapids, Vermilion River

At Soo Crossing, Vermilion River

At Soo Crossing, Vermilion River