OpinionBy: Norman Brandson
Posted: 11/23/2019 3:00 AM |
The United States Bureau of Reclamation issued a public notice in September initiating an exercise to define the scope of an environmental impact statement for a project called the Eastern North Dakota Alternate Water Supply Project (ENDAWS).
On Oct. 16, the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority convened a conference in Fargo to fan enthusiasm for the construction of a $1.19-billion pipeline to deliver Missouri River water to Fargo North Dakota. Construction is slated to begin next spring.
ENDAWS and the pipeline are not separate projects, but the two halves of the Red River Valley Water Supply project (RRVWS), a slimmed-down version the defunct Garrison Diversion. In fact, ENDAWS proposes to use already constructed features of Garrison to deliver Missouri River water to the pipeline, discharging into the Sheyenne River, which meets the Red River downstream of Fargo.
Garrison went into hibernation after the International Joint Commission — the bi-national administrative body of the Canada/U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty consisting of six commissioners (three from each country) — recommended in 1976 that the project not proceed because of the risk of transferring harmful invasive organisms from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay drainage.
It is a measure of the prominence of the treaty and the professionalism of the commission in those days that the national governments had sufficient confidence in the commission’s objectivity and wisdom to ask for its advice; that they were able to reach consensus on such a contentious issue; and that both governments accepted their recommendations without reservation.
The commission also recommended that transfer of water from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay basin could take place "if and when the governments of Canada and the United States agree that methods have been proven that will eliminate the risk of biota transfer, or if the question of biota transfer is agreed to be no longer a matter of concern." To date, neither of these conditions has been met.
The RRVWS differs from the original Garrison proposal in scale and declared purpose (an alternative water supply for eastern North Dakota in times of severe drought), but poses many of the same risks. And these risks will be constant — it is inconceivable that a multibillion-dollar project will sit idle for years at a time. Uses will be found for this water when no drought exists. The tap will be permanently open.
In recent years, the treaty has faded into insignificance in the power corridors of Ottawa. The Harper government, perhaps sensing — incorrectly — a faint anti-development aroma, ignored the treaty. They were content to have the commission promote good feelings under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a Canada/U.S. pact negotiated and operated outside of the treaty.
During its first term, the current government, having expended all of its diplomatic capital on renegotiating the Free Trade Agreement, was content to let British Columbia steer the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Canada also studiously ignored a proven pollution threat to Montana and Idaho originating in B.C., and dismissed ongoing grumbling from Alaska about mining activities in B.C. Nor did it appear interested in the looming reality of the RRVWS project.
When certain political vectors align in Washington, free trade agreements can go "poof." There are elements in the U.S. state department that would be quite happy to see the treaty disappear, or at least fall into disuse. After all, in bilateral diplomacy with our American neighbours, the treaty is a unique example where we sit at the table as co-operating equals. The treaty binds commissioners to apply their expertise and knowledge, but to not represent "interests." This is quite unlike the power negotiating that takes place on other issues such as free trade.
There are many lakes straddling the international boundary, and about as many rivers flowing south across it as flow north. The treaty has largely disarmed the potential for harmful disputes and cross-border tension. Both countries have benefited enormously from their co-operative management of shared waters.
Perhaps now that free trade is (almost) in the rearview mirror, Canada can turn its attention to re-energizing the Boundary Waters Treaty. Job one is to demonstrate the value of the treaty to our U.S. colleagues. Job two is to ensure that the principles of the treaty are consistently applied; that no actions on shared lakes and rivers with potential to harm the neighbouring country escape the purview of the treaty.
We can start by promoting the involvement of the commission at an early stage when projects have trans-boundary implications. The commission does not make crazy recommendations; if Alaska alleges harm originating in a B.C. mine, it is not up to B.C. to decide whether or not this ought to be reviewed under the treaty.
If such an allegation is unfounded, the commission will quickly determine so. What better stamp of approval than the imprimatur of the commission? Canada needs to get seriously involved in the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. The U.S. state department is. Also, start taking an interest in the RRVWS project, as there are several unanswered questions related to the degree of protection necessary to safeguard Manitoba waters.
The risk potential is significantly higher than was the case of the Northwest Area Water Supply project (NAWS). Manitoba spent 15 years in U.S. courts, not to stop that project, but to successfully affirm that Canadian concerns had to be taken into account. Had NAWS been reviewed under the treaty, an outcome beneficial to both countries would have been reached years earlier and millions of dollars would have been saved.
And what of Manitoba? It is, of course, unthinkable that our government is sitting on its haunches while pipe is about to be laid that will join the Missouri and Red rivers.
We must assume that provincial officials are in contact with our department of foreign affairs, urging immediate and forceful federal involvement, and also in communication with the Bureau of Reclamation to determine how to relate to its review process.
Hopefully, they will reveal their strategy to us soon.
Norman Brandson was deputy minister of the former Manitoba departments of environment, water stewardship and conservation from 1990 to 2006.
Salmon Beyond Borders’ Suggestions for British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Public Engagement Survey
Salmon Beyond Borders’ Suggestions for
British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Public Engagement Survey
*to download this document as a PDF, click here.
This survey is 30 questions long and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. Our hope is that by providing some suggestions, we can help guide your answers to reflect the need for rigorous environmental assessments in shared transboundary watersheds.
If you have ample time, please also see the attached briefing packet from West Coast Environmental Law prior to tackling the survey.
Additionally, if you want to let BC know how you feel about this form of public engagement, let them know, take the survey here!
Questions 1-7 are predominantly focused on who you are and what your background is.
The rest of the questions from the survey can be found below, with our suggestions listed in bold.
8. Please indicate how much you agree with the following statement:There are project categories that should be added to the Reviewable Projects Regulation.
9. Please share with us what project category(s) should be added to the RPR
*Only answer this question if the following conditions are met: Answer was 'Strongly agree' or 'Agree' at question '8 [q008]' (Please indicate how much you agree with the following statement: There are project categories that should be added to the Reviewable Projects Regulation. )
10. Please share with us why the project category(s) should be added to the RPR
11. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
The Reviewable Projects Regulation includes some project categories that should be removed from the Regulation
*When SBB did the survey, it jumped from Question 11 to Question 14, skipping 12-13.
14. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Project Design thresholds are an important factor to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefore trigger an environmental assessment.
15. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Project design thresholds are enough information to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefor trigger an environmental assessment
16. Do you have any feedback on the proposed changes to the Project Design Thresholds outlined in the Intentions Paper on pages 13-20 (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/download/FDD409EE186245879E6190531713074D#)
1) Restore the “original” thresholds (i.e. those enacted in 1995 under the first Environmental Assessment Act) for mineral mines and coal mines, namely 25,000 tonnes/year of mineral ore for mineral mines and 100,000 tonnes/year production of coal.
2) Calculate production thresholds based on what is extracted from the environment, not what the proponent intends to sell.
3) BC must provide the data necessary to evaluate whether the proposed new threshold for placer mines would actually result in assessment of any placer mines. Ultimately, the threshold must ensure that placer mines with potentially significant impacts undergo assessment.
4) Abandon the proposal to exempt oil and gas proponents from assessments for extracting deep groundwater and disposing of contaminated water in deep wells.
5) Include a class assessment of mobile thermal treatment of drilling mud, rather than exempting it from assessment.
17. Please tell us how much you agree with the following:
Effects Thresholds are an important factor to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefore trigger an environmental assessment.
18. Are there Effects Thresholds other than linear disturbance, area land disturbance, green house gas emissions, or overlap with prescribed protected areas that could be used to determine the potential adverse impacts of a project, based solely on the project design or features of a project? The criteria must be able to be determined without a lot of testing or data collection.
19. Do you have any feedback on the Effects thresholds outlined on page 21 of the Intentions paper
1) GHG threshold at 50,000 tonnes/year; our fallback is that, at minimum, it must be 1% of BC’s 2050 target, which would be weaker at 127,000 tonnes/year (but still a lot better than their proposal of 1% of the 2030 target, which is 382,000 tonnes/yr). Any project that exceeds 1% of BC's 2050 climate target rather than using the 2030 target. Apply this threshold to all projects of any type, not just the categories of projects already listed in the RPR.
2) Significantly lower the proposed disturbance-based threshold for prescribed projects to 75 hectares.
3) Apply the new (strengthened) impact-based thresholds to upstream development activities (oil and gas and mining).
4) Remove the provision exempting water uses approved under section 10 of the Water Sustainability Act from the assessment requirement for water withdrawals.
5) Remove the requirement to determine significant adverse effects from the threshold that would require EA for prescribed projects that overlap with a listed protected area.
20. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Requiring proponents to submit a notification to the EAO if the project:
a) requires a federal impact assessment, but it is not wholly on federal land are within 15% of the Project Design Threshold
or b) has a maximum annual direct employment of at least 250 people is enough to ensure the EAO can track projects that might require an environmental assessment that do not meet the requirements of the reviewable project regulation.
21. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
For projects that have never received an Environmental Assessment (EA) Certificate (i.e., they were either initially constructed prior to the rest Environmental Assessment Act coming into force in 1995, or below the EA reviewability thresholds), the proponent should be required to notify the EAO if they intend to modify the project, where the modified project would exceed the threshold for new projects in that category.
22. Are there other notification thresholds that could help the EAO track projects that might require an environmental assessment, but do not meet the requirements of the Reviewable Projects Regulation?
23. Would you like to provide feedback on the Prescribed Protected Areas Appendix of the Reviewable Projects Regulation Intentions Paper? *
24. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Making environmental assessments mandatory for projects within the Prescribed Category of Projects that are proposed within a Prescribed Protected Area, is a good way to get proponents to consider how their proposed projects could interact with protected areas from the earliest stages of project design, providing an opportunity for proponents to adjust their design to avoid overlaps with prescribed areas, therefore minimizing adverse effects.
25. Are there other ways the Environmental Assessment Ofce could get proponents to consider how their proposed projects could interact with protected areas from the earliest stages of project design?
26. Do you have any feedback on the proposed Prescribed Protected Areas for inclusion in the regulation?
27. Do you have any feedback on the protected or managed areas not proposed for inclusion?
Let the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office know what you think, take the survey here!
As I reflect on my time as Salmon Beyond Borders’ B.C. Organizer, I’m thinking back...way back...
I’m channeling 10 year old Sierra - playing her favorite computer game - The Yukon Trail. The Yukon Trail is a 1994 computer game based on The Oregon Trail series set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century. Players travel through Seattle to Skagway and into the Yukon - to “strike it rich” along the river. I played this game in elementary school for years and it taught me what the foundation of Canada’s mining history had looked like. Those images played through my mind as I considered what it would be like to be a gold-rush era miner - claiming a stake! How exciting. The adventure! The hardship!
Well today, the billion dollar mining industry looks quite a bit different. But rather unfortunately, the regulations that are supposed to protect the ecosystems they operate in - do not. Our mining laws in B.C. haven’t changed in 150 years - that’s right, not since the gold rush.
Considering that British Columbia’s gold rush was important in the history and settlement of European and Chinese people in western Canada, the presence of gold in what is now British Columbia is spoken of in many old legends that, in part, led to its colonization. Still to this day, most Indigenous peoples in British Columbia have never ceded or surrendered their traditional territories.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples to participate in decision making about their traditional territories, and be entitled to give free, prior and informed consent before development can occur. As we have heard commitments from Canadian lawmakers, we eagerly await their action to fully adopt “UNDRIP” and “FPIC” - which not only will apply to First Nations, but to downstream sovereign tribes as well.
Bottom line, the way mining is currently done here in B.C. does not address indigenous jurisdiction, and it will plunge this generation into ecological and financial debt. We are spending our shrinking inheritance on cleaning up the mining industry’s mess.
So what can we do about it?
Well, first off, you can let Minister Heyman and Premier Horgan know that they need to modernize B.C. mining laws. In May of 2019, nearly 30 local, provincial and national organizations from a wide range of sectors, including citizen and community groups, First Nations, academics, and social justice and environmental organizations launched the B.C. Mining Law Reform Network, dedicated to ensuring equitable mining policies in British Columbia. I was able to be part of the launch event in Victoria, as Salmon Beyond Borders is one of 30 organizations behind this great effort. Please consider joining with support for the B.C. Mining Law Reform movement and take action here.
Next, you can tell Minister Freeland that the federal government of Canada needs to push B.C. to improve its mining laws and work with the United States to ensure our shared salmon rivers remain productive for generations to come.
The shared wild salmon rivers of this region are integral to our identities and ways of life in British Columbia, a common trait we share with our neighbors in Alaska and Washington.
People need wild spaces - if only to imagine and be comforted by the fact that there are things bigger than themselves out there. Until recently, I imagined everything north of Prince George as miner’s country - a place so wild and vast that there was no way industrial mining would put these rivers on the brink. Well, after countless markets and tabling and talking to the public about B.C.’s large-scale mining in shared wild salmon rivers - it seems many other British Columbians feel the same.
Mining has played a big role in British Columbia, and it will continue. Our job as citizens of B.C. is to take responsibility for the impacts that B.C. mines have had, and will likely have on our wild salmon rivers. We need to ask ourselves questions such as: Where should mining take place? How should it be done? Who is at the decision table? Who should benefit? And what are we willing to do to protect the places we love?
While I am leaving my official role with the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign, I will not be taking my thumb off the pulse. Pressure needs to come from people throughout the province - this is our task as British Columbians- to stay informed and take action. You can do this by taking these urgent actions, signing up for our newsletter, staying connected and attending events. Staying informed is our best form of activism (and voting is a close second!) See you all at the polls this month!
With that in mind -
Meet Breanna! Breanna is Salmon Beyond Borders’ campaign coordinator. She is based in Southeast Alaska - and is your go-to person when you have questions about the campaign and our work to defend and sustain the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk transboundary rivers. Among many things, Bre will continue to plan events throughout the region and keep you all up to speed - please reach out to Breanna if you want to collaborate in the name of wild salmon!
For me - I will continue working with, and for salmon. My focus is shifting to restoration, but my heart will always be with this transboundary campaign and the people who so passionately work for these magical places.
B.C. Organizer for Salmon Beyond Borders
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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