The Keeyask Project – if licensed and built – will have unavoidable environmental effects.
According to today’s laws, the Keeyask Project cannot be built until the project proponent (Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership) completes an Environmental Assessment, writes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and receives environmental licenses from the provincial and federal governments.
Environmental assessment is a process to predict the environmental effects of a proposed development project, before it is carried out. The environmental assessment process required for the Keeyask Project is set out in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Manitoba’s Environment Act.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
An EIS is a document required under provincial and federal environmental legislation for any project likely to cause significant environmental and socio-economic effects. An EIS describes effects of the proposed project and explains plans to avoid, reduce, mitigate, and monitor changes resulting from the development. The EIS is submitted as part of the environmental assessment process to inform government decisions about licensing the Keeyask Project.
As a co-proponent, YFFN has completed its own document called Kipekiskwaywinan – Our Voices that has been submitted to the regulators along side other scientific documents as part of the EIS. This document details YFFN’s unique history and culture, concerns regarding the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, and the community’s hopes and expectations of how to move forward in partnership with Manitoba Hydro and the other KCNs.
The governments will not issue the various licenses until they are satisfied that the proponents have:
- studied the natural and human environment
- predicted potential effects on the environment and local people
- avoided negative effects, where possible
- minimized unavoidable effects, and
- made plans to monitor and manage any negative effects that do occur
In 2001, Manitoba Hydro started the environmental assessment process for the Keeyask hydro-electric project with a series of scientific studies of the environment near the Keeyask site at Gull Rapids. Some YFFN members have worked as technicians and field support staff during these studies. Manitoba Hydro’s researchers used the information from the study program to predict the environmental effects of building the Keeyask dam, and discussed with the KCNs how effects should be managed, reduced and monitored.
YFFN Members’ Concerns
The YFFN Future Development office has conducted community-based studies to record members’ concerns about the Keeyask Project. Overall, members who participated in the studies were concerned that the Keeyask Project could add to, or worsen environmental degradation caused by the large developments of the past 40 years: Kelsey, the Churchill River Diversion, Lake Winnipeg Regulation, and other hydroelectric stations. YFFN members raised the following key areas of concern:
- Quality of water for domestic consumption and water-based community activities
- Fish and wildlife habitats, abundances of fish, wildlife and plants and availability of country food
- Effects of erosion, debris, water levels and navigation hazards on the safety and reliability of travel on open water
- Effects of hanging ice, slush ice, and altered ice formation on safety and reliability of winter travel
- Community isolation and costs of living as influenced by winter road and travel conditions
- The Cree language, cultural practices, cultural identity, access to traditional territories, and on-going relationships with the land, water, plants, animals, fish, and all other things
- Competition from outsiders for increasingly scarce natural resources
- Community health, safety and well-being as influenced by water quality, travel safety, and use of country foods
Manitoba Hydro’s Predictions
At this stage, Manitoba Hydro expects the following changes to the environment around Gull Rapids:
- Loss of Gull Rapids, which will be covered by the Generating Station
- Flooding of 45.1 km2 (11,100 acres) of land in Gull Lake
- Slower, deeper water through Gull Lake, Birthday Rapids, and as far upstream as the outlet of Clark Lake
- Changes in erosion and water quality downstream of Keeyask, but not in Split Lake
- Flooding of several caribou calving islands in Gull Lake
- Changes to sturgeon habitat, movement, reproduction and numbers
- No changes to open water levels on Split Lake
- No changes to water quality near York Landing
- No changes to winter ice travel and safety
Although proponents are required to predict the effects of development projects, scientific predictions are never certain. The exact effects of the Keeyask Project will not be known until they occur.
YFFN’s Role in the Environmental & Licensing Process:
To date, YFFN representatives have been involved in the environmental assessment process, raising members’ concerns in a number of working groups that the Keeyask Partnership established:
- Environmental Studies Working Group
- Split Lake Sedimentation & Erosion Working Group
- Mercury & Human Health Working Group
- Aquatic Working Group
- Mammals Working Group
- Narrative Working Group
YFFN also has members on two committees that has overseen the preparation of the EIS:
- EIS Coordinators (YFFN has one non-voting member)
- Partners’ Regulatory and Licensing Committee (YFFN has 2 of 12 members)
Since signing the JKDA, YFFN became a project proponent and is required to support the applications for environmental licenses. YFFN will continue to be involved in the committees listed above and will lobby for an on-going role for members and their traditional knowledge in monitoring and managing the social and environmental effects of the Keeyask project. If the project is approved by the provincial and federal governments, YFFN will sit on a Keeyask Monitoring Advisory Committee, which will review and comment on follow-up programs to monitor the ultimate environmental effects of the project.
For more information, please contact the York Factory Future Development office at 1-204-341-2236.