Opinion: A Dam for Canada’s Peace River Valley?

Jenny Nichols is a filmmaker focused on global conservation issues.

Xavier Beam is standing in his backyard on the banks of the Peace River in British Columbia, Canada. He’s holding a fishing pole and shading his eyes to watch his younger brothers paddling in a tiny canoe. I ask him about the proposed Site C dam. “Well, they are going to build a highway right through our house and then flood it. I just have this huge problem with that.”

Xavier, his brothers, and his parents, Caroline and Derek, are one of the many families in the Peace River Valley that are living under the shadow of the proposed Site C dam. If approved, the eight-billion-dollar project (this number is predicted by a company, BC Hydro, notorious for underestimating project costs by half) that would flood 107 kilometers of valley floor, including Class 1 and 2 farmland, 78 First Nations heritage sites—encompassing burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance—prime wildlife habitat and migration routes, as well as homes and ranches that have been passed down through generations. Xavier’s great-great grandmother had to watch her homestead burned to the ground when the first dam—the W.A.C. Bennett dam—was built on the Peace in 1968. Four generations later the family is facing the same threat, only this time the technology is obsolete. We have moved beyond dams.

Whether public opinion is influenced by economics, the stories of families that have farmed in the valley for generations whose homes will be at the bottom of a reservoir, or the wildlife that depend on this microclimate and migration route, the Site C dam construction is contested. This project has been tabled twice before. This valley has countless other potential uses. It boasts huge swaths farmland that have the potential to feed. Some farms are already investing in solar and are seeing the benefits. It is also an absolutely beautiful river. Recreation will undoubtedly take off once people can plan and build a future in this valley.

After nine days with the people that call the Peace home, I too feel the shadow of proposed dam. Site C dam is a specific case, but this is a burden we all share. Development is inevitable, but we have the technology to invest in alternative methods–solar and wind have both proved effective in the Peace Valley. Let’s give ourselves a fighting chance. Site C is not yet approved. We need to continue to tell our policy makers and our governments that we expect them to invest in our future, that we’re tired of short-term solutions. We expect more.

For more information, go to stopsitec.org