B.C. Hydro failing to live up to environmental obligations, say conservationists

·2 min read
B.C. Hydro's Site C hydroelectric dam project in the northeast of the province pictured in 2021. Funding the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program is an obligation under the utility's water licences.  (B.C. Hydro - image credit)
B.C. Hydro's Site C hydroelectric dam project in the northeast of the province pictured in 2021. Funding the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program is an obligation under the utility's water licences. (B.C. Hydro - image credit)

Conservationists are calling on the auditor general to investigate B.C. Hydro and what they say is its failure to live up to legal and moral obligations to fund habitat restoration as compensation for land destroyed by hydroelectric dam projects.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation and University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre claim in a brief that money the public utility puts into the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program is instead being used to finance ordinary government functions, including invasive species work and children's education programs.

"It's great to teach kids about the environment and to be safe around bears, but that's not replacing the thousands of square kilometres of wildlife habitat and spawning grounds destroyed by B.C. Hydro dams," said Calvin Sandborn, UVic Environmental Law Centre legal director.

"Those funds should truly compensate for the vast, rich valleys lost to hydroelectric development on the Columbia and the Peace [rivers]."

Funding the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program is an obligation under B.C. Hydro's water licences.

The executive director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation said the problem has been ignored by the province for a long time.

"We have flagged this issue hundreds, if not more times, to dozens of ministers over the decades and it's fallen on deaf ears," said Jesse Zeman. "There are days where it sure seems like the tail wags the dog when it comes to B.C. Hydro and its relationship with the provincial government."

B.C. Hydro said it has not seen the B.C. Wildlife Federation brief and so couldn't comment specifically.

B.C. Hydro
B.C. Hydro

In a statement emailed to CBC, it said the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program operates independently from B.C. Hydro.

"An independent, third-party evaluation and financial audit of the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program was conducted as recently as 2018-2019," said the statement.

"Funding decisions are made at the local level in an open and transparent way: each region has a local independent board and local action plan, which includes priorities for the region. Each board includes representatives from local agencies, First Nations and public stakeholders."

Zeman said B.C. is failing miserably in its duty to restore habitat loss and degradation in the Columbia River basin, spending less than $6 million per year.

"[The United States] is spending $240 million directly on the ground and close to another $500 million on other functions related to fish and wildlife compensation," he said.

"The province has benefited significantly from a financial perspective from the United States. We get $100 million to $120 million as a result of the Columbia River treaty. And from our perspective, that money needs to be going back into fish and wildlife compensation."

B.C. Hydro said it would welcome the opportunity to provide further information to the auditor general.

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