Jan 14, 2016

First Nations Present Evidence of Groundwater Impact in British Columbia

West Moberly, Prophet River & Saulteau First Nations say BC Hydro has left gaps in groundwater data at dam site

West Moberly First Nations, Prophet River First Nation and Saulteau First Nations have provided scientific evidence on the potential impact to groundwater from the proposed Site C dam near Fort St. John, BC. The First Nations retained an expert in hydrogeology, Dr. Gilles Wendling, to conduct a technical evaluation of groundwater information provided by BC Hydro.

“My research uncovered significant data gaps in the characterization of groundwater around the dam site,” said Wendling. His analysis found the following:

“1. There is not enough information on current groundwater flows in the area and how those flows will change when the dam is built, and the subsurface conditions are very complex. Based on the lack of definition of the groundwater regime near the dam, the First Nations are questioning whether the safety of the dam has been adequately addressed.

“2. There are significant concerns about the interaction between increased groundwater pressures from the dam and the extensive oil and gas activity in the region, including the reinjection of liquid wastes into the ground. Changes to groundwater flows could cause those wastes to mix with groundwater.

“3. The increased frequency and severity of earthquakes in the region due to hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ could pose a risk to dam safety that has not been accounted for by BC Hydro, and could further affect the integrity of oil and gas wells, including the liquid waste disposal wells.”

Dr. Wendling's report was prepared for the consultation process between the First Nations and the provincial government about the main water license for the Site C dam and reservoir. A written hearing process on the proposed license recently concluded, and the First Nations have met with government officials to present the new research and other concerns.

“We view this new information about groundwater impacts as highly significant, and it seems clear that BC Hydro should have done this research at a much earlier stage,” said Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations. “We have asked the provincial government to go back to BC Hydro for more information on groundwater conditions before making their decision on the water license.”

The water license is one of many authorizations still required for the Site C dam. BC Hydro has already begun site preparation activities, including clearing timber and constructing temporary roads and bridges in the area of the proposed dam. Ongoing legal challenges of the Site C project by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are expected to continue for at least the next several months.