Quebec, January 10, 2007
Provincially owned global energy giant Hydro-Quebec has received permits to begin building a series of dams, tunnels and canals on the Rupert River, which flows through 380 miles of pristine wilderness in northwest Quebec.
The water from the Rupert will be redirected a hundred miles north into the Eastmain River watershed, which is clogged with dams. It 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.
A federal committee approved the project in December after presenting an Environmental Assessment.
Two Federal commissioners disagreed with the methodology for evaluating mercury contamination in the river, and expressed concerns that the environmental costs are too high for the project to go ahead. Three Cree chiefs said the Quebec government breached its commitments to their tribe by authorizing project.
In 2002, the governing body for all Cree First Nations held a referendum on the Rupert River diversion and approved the project. The Cree had voted on the diversion without knowing its full impact, because no impact statements had been completed, the Chiefs say. Three local Cree communities recently voted 81% against the project.
The original agreement, called the Paix des braves, or Peace of the Brave, stipulated the diversion would not be allowed without the full support of local communities.
The Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, Matthew Mukash, is proposing the development of wind power on Cree land instead of sacrificing the Rupert.
The EA determined that mercury could leach out of the soil into the future standing water of the Rupert watershed. Fish provide most of the protein for traditional Cree diets, and officials recommend Cree eat only one fish from the river a week for 20 years after the dams are in place.
The multi-billion dollar project will place four large dams, 70 weirs, a spillway which will reverse the river's flow, 75 dikes, three kilometers of tunnel, and 12 kilometers of canals on the Rupert.
Only the Skeene River rivals the Rupert, which drops through 65 sections of massive cataracts before it reaches the Hudson Bay, as the largest unaltered river in North America.
The Rupert harbors extensive fisheries and serves as a major wilderness corridor for 300 species of migratory birds and 44 species of mammals. Its pristine water can be drunk unfiltered. For whitewater enthusiasts, the Rupert offers multiple month-long wilderness trips unrivaled in scenery and challenge. Among the many rapids, six have never been run. The average annual flow exceeds 100,000 cfs, which could fill two Olympic size swimming pools in one second.
Eric Cheezo is a 44-year old Cree 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 halted on the Rupert when activists reported it was illegal. Several groups are determined to halt construction again this spring.
Based in Chibougamau, Rupert Reverence (www.reverencerupert.org) promotes ecotourism and works to safeguard their river.
Several professional kayakers from around the world are planning a film expedition on the Rupert in 2007 –
rupertriver.blogspot.com)rupertriver.blogspot,com, in order to document the river and include a wider audience in the struggle for preservation.