Fighting for the Flow: Local Community Response to the Site C Dam

 The Peace River Valley before and after clearing forest for Site C.


The Canadian Freshwater Alliance will be hosting a webinar on Thursday, April 21st at 11am PT/ 2pm ET about how local communities are organizing to respond to the contentious Site C hydroelectric dam in northeastern BC, and what the freshwater community can do to support these initiatives.

Speakers on the hour-long webinar include Andrea Morison, coordinator of the Peace Valley Environment Association (PVEA); Helen Knott, a local Dane Zaa/Cree writer and activist; and Rob Botterell, a lawyer who is well versed about the many lawsuits before the courts.

In addition to giving us context and updates on recent developments, panelists will talk about ongoing efforts to appeal to the Federal government to intervene. Although the project is often framed as a “done deal,” the Federal government has jurisdiction to overturn the project.


PVEA has recently launched the website Real Site C Hearings as a platform to gather comments that voice public concerns about the dam. With enough support, PVEA and local communities hope that the Federal government will step in and reverse the decision to build Site C.


Background on Site C


Site C has a long history, dating back over half a century. First proposed in the mid-1950s, the Site C dam is the third of four major dams proposed for the Peace River Valley in northeastern BC. Two of the four dams have already been erected. Site A, also known as the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, was built in 1967 and Site B, or the Peace Canyon Dam, was constructed in 1980, some 23 kilometers downstream from Site A.  


Workers construct the W.A.C Bennett dam in the 1960s.


The first of the dams, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, flooded over 350,000 acres of forested land once the floodgates closed, so to speak. The reservoir, now called Williston Lake, is the seventh-largest reservoir in the world, and larger than any lake in British Columbia—natural or created. Construction of the dam displaced a number of residents, including the Tsay Keh Dene (Sekani) First Nation.


Site C was originally planned to be built in the 1980s, but the BC government, which decided that electricity needs in the province were not sufficient to merit the construction of the dam, rejected plans to build it at that time.


In 2010, the BC government again put Site C back on the table, citing concerns about meeting domestic energy demand. Government granted approval for the first phase of construction in summer of 2015. If constructed as planned, the 60-meter high, $8.8 billion mega-project would flood tens of thousands of acres of land in the Peace River Valley. This would result in the permanent loss of large swathes of prime agricultural land, critical fish and wildlife habitat in and around the Peace River and its tributaries, and hundreds of First Nations archeological sites.


The Site C dam has been controversial to say the least, and many communities have been actively organizing in efforts to halt its construction. Some groups have called the government’s consultation process “flawed,” arguing that the decision to construct the dam was a unilateral decision, not the reflection of community consent. To this effect, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have rejected Site C as unacceptable and an infringement of Treaty Rights. Different groups have also filed a variety of lawsuits with the courts, and a number of environmental organizations including PVEA, the Sierra Club of BC, Amnesty International, and others have launched campaigns against the project.


Despite these court cases and the opposition to Site C, BC Hydro (the agency overseeing the project), has proceeded with construction measures, including commencement of clear-cutting of old growth forests near the portion of the valley where the dam itself will be constructed.


However, as with most things, it ain’t over til it’s over, and local communities continue to mount pressure and build the campaign to stop the dam.

To find out more, please join us this Thursday (April 21) for “Site C Dam: What’s going on and what can you do?” Register for the webinar here.

Christine Mettler is interim BC coordinator for the Freshwater Alliance.