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The Health and Well-Being of Another River Threatened

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Press Release
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The Diversion of the Rupert River Is Approved
Hydro Quebec Plans to Begin Construction

Overwhelming dismay from local communities and conservationists as multi-billion dollar mega project destroys one of the largest untouched rivers on the continent

Quebec, January 16, 2007-Construction is expected to begin this month to divert what has been called the most beautiful river in Canada. An Environmental Impact Statement presented by a committee called COMMEX in December approved the project, known as Eastmain 1-A.

Two Federal commissioners disagreed with the methodology for evaluating the extent of mercury contamination in the river, and expressed concerns that the environmental costs are too high for the project to go ahead. Permits are being issued to provincially owned global energy giant Hydro-Quebec to begin construction.

A cost/benefit analysis conducted by American university student Garett Kephart concluded that the project will create net costs of $16.7 billion, far above the $4 billion figure offered by Hydro-Quebec.

The Quebec government breached its commitments to the Cree with authorization of the project, three Cree chiefs said of the verdict.

In 2002, the governing body for all Cree First Nations held a referendum on the Rupert River diversion that gave the province the green light to proceed.

The Cree had voted on the diversion without knowing its full impact, because no impact statements had been completed, the Chiefs say.

In a recent vote conducted by the chiefs of the three communities most affected by the project, 81% of those who voted were not in favor of the project.

One of the main stipulations in the original agreement, called the Paix des braves, or Peace of the Brave, was that the project would not be allowed without the full support of local communities.

Quebec Environment Minister Claude Bechard said on Friday that the government has taken all steps to ensure the project proceeds soon.

Only the Skeene River rivals the Rupert as the largest unaltered river in North America. The Rupert flows through pristine wilderness for 380 miles. It drops down through 65 sections of massive cataracts before it reaches the Hudson Bay.

The Rupert harbors extensive fisheries and serves as a major wilderness corridor for 300 species of migratory birds and 44 species of mammals. Its water is in a pristine state, and can be drunk without filtering. For whitewater enthusiasts, the Rupert is an ideal playground, offering multiple month-long wilderness trip itineraries that are unrivaled anywhere in scenery and challenge. Among the many rapids, six have never been run. The average annual flow exceeds 100,000 cubic feet per second, and could fill two Olympic size swimming pools in one second.

The Rupert is scheduled to be diverted by 4 large dams, 70 weirs, a spillway which will reverse the rivers flow, 75 dikes, 3 kilometers of tunnel, and 12 kilometers of canals. The diversion will create 400 square miles of standing water and reduce the flow of the Rupert by over 70%. The water from the Rupert will be redirected a hundred miles north into the Eastmain River watershed, which is clogged with dams. The addition of the Rupert will add 888MW of power to the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Roads, power lines, temporary cities, and two new power stations will be built in the wilderness.

The Environmental Assessment determined that mercury will enter the Rupert watershed by leaching out of the soil and into the standing water. It is recommended for Cree to eat only one fish from the river a week for twenty years after the dams are in place. In the summer months, fish have provided most of the protein for traditional Cree diets.

Eric Cheezo is a 44-year old Cree who was born along the banks of the Rupert. Like his father and grandfathers before him, he makes his living by hunting, trapping, and guiding. Soon, he may have to abandon his home, livelihood, and the graves of his ancestors in order to find a new way to feed his family.

Proponents of the project say the diversion will create jobs, boost the regions economy, and provide more power to sell to the United States.

Opponents believe the temporary jobs aren't worth the permanent removal of one of the few remaining natural wonders on the North American continent.

Last spring, construction was halted on the Rupert when activists reported that it was illegal. Several groups are determined to halt construction again this spring.

Based in Chibougamau, Rupert Reverence (www.reverencerupert.com) promotes ecotourism and works to safeguard their river.

Professional Kayakers from around the world are planning a film expedition on the Rupert in 2007( rupertriver.blogspot.com), in order to document the river and include a wider audience in the struggle for preservation.

The Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, Matthew Mukash, is proposing the development of wind power on Cree land instead of sacrificing the Rupert. He views the money the Cree have already received from the project, part of 3.6 billion, as reparations for the illegal damming of the La Grande and Eastmain rivers to the Rupert's north.

By , Steve King (rupertriver.blogspot.com)

 

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Steve King is a writer/illustrator/photographer/filmaker working for social and environmental change.

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