Rivers at Risk

In 2002, the BC government released the Clean Energy Act, encouraging the development of renewable sources of energy including geothermal, wind, solar and hydro power. It simultaneously restricted BC Hydro from purchasing any new sources of hydroelectricity and opened the BC electricity market to the private sector. A gold rush mentality erupted as the government sold off rights to rivers and creeks to eager private developers; there are now applications from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to develop over 700 waterways across BC. 

The West Kootenay EcoSociety is critical of the BC Clean  Energy Act because it endorses the development of small hydro without suitable consideration of their potential negative environmental, social, and economic impacts. Major projects are being solicited and approved that may damage the adaptive capacity of the socioeconomic and environmental systems we will be depending upon as climate change deepens. The WKES opposes how small hydro IPPs are being developed in BC. 

Rivers at Risk in the West Kootenays

The Kootenay region has a wealth of rivers, creeks and terrain ideal for hydroelectric development. There are over 50 water license applications to develop small hydro projects in the region. The largest proposal to date is the approximately 100 MW Glacier/Howser project proposed in the Duncan Valley. It is the largest run-of-river project proposed in the Kootenays and has generated considerable public concern due to its potential negative ecological impacts on an important aquatic habitat for a genetically unique population of threatened bull trout and wilderness areas for grizzly bears, wolverine and endangered mountain caribou. After careful analysis of the project proposal, the West Kootenay EcoSociety (WKES) opposed the development on the conviction that it is a poorly planned project in an ecologically sensitive area  

Glacier/Howser Project Proposal

Glacier Howser Update August 2012: The BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is running out of time. The EAO suspended the review of this project in September 2009 and the three-year suspension is almost up. The Working Group assigned to evaluating the impact of the project has determined that the proponent has not yet demonstrated that the diversion of Howser Creek won't permanently impact bull trout. The EAO must now decide whether to a) overrule the panel and move ahead with the review, b) give the proponent more time to respond, or c) terminate the review once and for all. Since the project no longer has an Energy Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro that guarantees a market for the energy, it's time to put this ill-conceived project behind us once and for all. Click here for a press release.

AXOR, a large Montreal-based corporation, under subsidiary Purcell Green Power, proposed the controversial 99.5 – 125 MW Glacier-Howser private hydro project for an area in the Duncan Valley and Purcell Mountains, 120 km north of Nelson. The project proposed to build 92 kms of new transmission lines across the Purcell Mountains stretching from the West to the East Kootenay. These power lines would cut through some areas of old growth forest, including Old Growth Management Areas (areas off-limits to logging companies due to their high ecological values), and important habitat for blue-listed (threatened) grizzly bears, wolverine, and mountain goat. Mountain caribou, a red-listed species (endangered), are also seen in this high quality habitat area. The project also includes the damming and diverting of significant amounts of water from four creeks into a combined 16 kms of tunnels large enough to drive a dump truck through. Unlike most other projects, the water diverted would never return to the original creeks, leaving 10 and 12 kms of streams with dramatically reduced water flow. There are concerns about the negative impact this would have on important aquatic habitat including habitat for a genetically unique population of blue-listed (threatened) bull trout.  

List of Concerns with the Glacier/Howser Project Proposal

  • Diversion of significant amounts (average 50-75%) of water from Glacier and Howser Creeks and two tributaries – Birnam and Suck Creeks. Diverted water never returns to the creek.
  • Impact to critical habitat for a genetically unique population of blue-listed bull trout and other aquatic species. Fish inventory work completed to date is too insufficient to accurately predict any outcomes. No solid strategies to mitigate imapcts to fish.  
    Compensation cannot be made for a genetically unique population entirely dependent on its current habitat.
  • Impact of a 4.5x4.5m tunnel (drill and blast construction) and disposal of massive amounts of subsequent waste rock muck. Potential for acid mine drainage is identified and no clear strategies areoutlined for addressing this.
  • Transmission line would be constructed in some Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) – areas off limits to logging companies due to their high ecological value.
  • Impact of transmission line construction and maintenance to important habitat for threatened grizzly bear, wolverine, endangered mountain caribou and other terrestrial species including mountain goat. 
  • Studies were never done to determine potential project impacts to threatened wolverine and endangered mountain caribou. Yet, summary information included in the application states that these two species, and important habitat for them could be impacted.
  • High potential that populations of the identified rare plant ecosystems and species will be impacted. Studies to date provide only cursory information. More studies are needed.
  • Cumulative impacts with other projects, such as Jumbo Glacier Resort development; other private hydro projects considered within the immediate area (4) and within the region (70+); resource extraction including logging and back country tourism ventures etc. Without a comprehensive analysis of this project in relation to all other current and likely development and activity in the region we cannot get a true sense of the impacts. Damage already caused by development including logging, mining and the Duncan Damshould also be considered in measuring the cumulative impacts.
  • The extent of glacier coverage in the Glacier and Howser watersheds is significant. With climate change resulting in glacial melt, current water flows are not reliable. This is an important consideration for this project both ecologically and economically.

The EcoSociety is opposed to the Glacier/Howser private hydro project. We believe that there are smart ways to develop renewable energy and what AXOR is proposing is an ecologically irresponsible project.       What you can do:To receive updates and action alerts on Glacier/Howser, e-mail Raelynn at raelynn@ecosociety.ca to be put on the Wild Rivers mailing list. Contact your local MLA, the Minister of Natural Resource Operations, the Minister of Environment, and Premier Christy Clark. Tell them that Glacier/Howser is an ecologically irresponsible project and should be shut down for good.

Rivers at Risk – Province Wide issue

The Glacier/Howser campaign is situated within a larger provincial campaign that is responding to the swell of citizen opposition towards BCs irresponsible energy development. The majority of people in British Columbia support the move towards renewable, clean, sources of energy, but desire that these projects be planned and developed in a way that minimizes negative social, environmental and economic impacts. There are priority issues that need to be addressed and the controversy surrounding IPPs in particular has resulted in an intense public debate. This debate includes, but is not limited to, energy security; regional and long-term energy planning; cumulative environmental impacts of IPPs; environmental oversight and lack of rigorous environmental standards; the lack of democratic accountability; the exclusion of local governments and citizens in decision-making; concerns over project licensing; deficient project assessment and monitoring requirements and, the merits of private versus public ownership of BC waterways and the energy they produce. If  BC continues on its current path of energy development it will fail to address the broader energy issues and further contribute to a future of unsustainable resource use. A move towards clean, renewable, sources of energy requires careful, thoughtful and strategic planning in order to minimize negative social, environmental and economic costs. It must reform governance, land leasing and water licensing decisions, as well strengthen environmental standards and assessments. Overall, it must align with the priorities of energy conservation and energy efficiency to ensure that we are building a future of ecological resilience, the most comprehensive response to the impacts of climate change. Click on the links to learn about other organizations working to protect rivers at risk in their own communities.

  For more information on this campaign and the proposed Glacier/Howser IPP, check out the press releases, updates and articles below:

West Kootenay EcoSociety Position Statement on IPPs (PDF)

What is small hydropower? (PDF)

Glacier Howser Campaign  History. Updated March 2011 (PDF)

Media Release April 1 2011: The Integrated Resource Plan Doesn't Cut It (PDF)

Media Release February 11 2011: Will common sense prevail and bring an end to the provincial review of the Glacier/Howser project? (PDF)

Media Release November 16 2011: Glacier Howser Private Power Project Heads for the Rocks (PDF)

Media Release September 9 2009: Province Stops Clock on Controversial Private Power Project (PDF)

Article by Lee Ann Unger: The Debate Over Energy Development in BC (PDF)