Save Our Rivers - Rafe Mair Presents to Rosslanders

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
December 11th, 2008

In a packed Miner’s Hall, acclaimed radio broadcaster and former Social Credit environment minister Rafe Mair headlined an event designed to build awareness around the loss of our rivers to corporate power projects. Oddly, the evening often felt more like an NDP election rally than an environmental awareness event.

The event, put on by the Save Our Rivers society, was the final leg of a six stop tour spreading the facts around Premier Campbell’s Energy Plan and the perils that face British Columbians if the private power projects that have been proposed continue to go through. Hosting the event were Lee-Ann Unger of the Kootenay Eco society, award winning documentary film-maker Damien Gillis, and Mr. Mair.

“This is the greatest challenge we face as a province, and the only way we’re going to defeat this program and ensure that we protect our wild rivers, our environment and our public power system is to band together as a people all around the province,” Gillis said, referring to the power projects that are taking over BC’s wild rivers. “We have an election coming up and that’s what we’re working towards. Taking down Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government and their so-called energy plan.”

Currently, there are over 500 applications for private power projects on BC rivers, most of which are located in remote and often pristine locations. Of these 500 proposed projects, over 70 are located in the West Kootenay region. The flashpoint of the issue in our area is centered around the Glacier / Howser creek project high in the Purcell Mountains between Kaslo and Invermere.

“We (The West Kootenay Eco-Society) started taking action on this issue just over a year ago,” said Lee-Ann Unger of the Glacier/Howser project. A company called Axor has proposed putting a project on the Glacier Howser creeks and it really awoke us to the scale of this issue. Ever since, we’ve been working quite hard and our focus is the environmental impact, although we are very concerned about the privatization.”

Touted as “Green power”, the private power projects are a perfect lesson in “Green washing” an issue. While the fact remains that, yes, a run of the river hydro project likely has less detrimental effects to the planet than constructing new coal, or nuclear power plants, this presentation highlighted the fact that there is no need in British Columbia for more power, and that this is a case of offshore corporations seeing a licence to print money and export power into the United States.

The fact that the majority of these projects are located in remote wilderness areas tends to keep the realities of the projects out of sight and out of mind for the majority of the population. This was one of the driving factors that led documentary filmmaker Gillis to trek out into the wilderness and bring back the videos and images of the environmental devastation accompanying these so-called green power projects.

Throughout the evening, Gillis showed several of his documentaries. It was often jaw droopingly shocking to see what these projects really look like on the ground. In some cases, they take up to 90% of the flow out of these wild rivers and divert it into underground tunnels running for tens of kilometres through slashes cut through the only remaining inland temperate rainforests on the planet; and in some cases like the Glacier/Howser project, the water isn’t returned into the creek downstream. This has major negative environmental impacts on the flora, fauna and climate of these areas.

The wide angle, awe inspiring shots of huge misting waterfalls and giant Western Red Cedars really hit home when you begin to consider that the reason this inland temperate rainforest exists is due to the misting and humidity created from these large rivers. A major message of the night was, remove the water from the rivers and you permanently destroy the ecosystem. Less water downstream means less flies for the fish to eat, less water for the fish to live in (translating into less food for the terrestrial animals to eat), and less water and moisture to sustain the majestic inland rainforests we are lucky to still have.

Not just an issue of diverting vast volumes of water from our creeks and rivers, these projects also come with negative impacts such as road building and an influx of industrial machinery into previously pristine lands and kilometre after kilometre of transmission lines running through wild and natural undisturbed habitat.

In the case of the Glacier/Howser, the powerhouses for the project will be located near the eastern shorelines of Kootenay Lake, but the transmission lines connecting the two powerhouses will run for over 90 kilometres up and over the height of land through the Purcell Mountains to substations near Invermere. This transmission line would be the first bi-section of a vast relatively undisturbed wilderness area which is home to a vitally important Grizzly Bear breeding habitat.

Mair, the third and final speaker of the night, captivated the audience’s attention with some well-placed jokes in a speech heavily laden with snipes at the Campbell Liberal government for “giving away” BC’s previous rivers and resources to offshore corporations and the destruction of our wild areas with little to no benefit for the people of British Columbia. He also focused on the fact that BC Hydro is being beaten into submission by these private power projects.

“The Campbell government wants us to surrender our power policy and our environment to the corporate boardroom because he says we need the power,” said Mair with an audible passion. “We have more than enough power for now and the foreseeable future. With only moderate conservation we will have plenty of power for years to come. These private power projects take BC Hydro’s profits away from you and me and give them to private shareholders and it cripples our power system, among the best in the world. We at Save Our Rivers say this: ‘If our government won’t change, we’re going to have to change the government.’” To which the crowd broke into the largest applause of the evening.

The ultimate message of the evening was that it is up to the people of BC to mobilize and take action against an energy plan that clearly has more negative impacts than benefits for BC residents, and that it is up to the people to oust the Campbell Liberals and their privatization of what was described as one of the world’s best power providers, BC Hydro. The presentation urged attendees to pass on the message and educate their friends on the issue.

To learn more about the fight to save BC’s wild rivers visit www.saveourrivers.ca .

Categories: Issues

Other News Stories