Is hydroelectricity green?

“Large dams will someday be reminders of an ancient time when humans thought that they could vanquish nature and found themselves vanquished instead” Leslie (2005)

Green is a controversial colour. The production of energy, in any form, is not good for the Earth. What we are told by the Charest government and other supporters of large-scale hydroelectricity is Hydroelectricity is not as bad as coal. Regardless, large-scale hydroelectric dams such as those proposed for the Romaine River are not green.

Dams destroy rivers. Through out the world, many large rivers have already been dammed or diverted. As a result, large, un-touched rivers such as the Romaine are seen as endangered species (Le Devoir, 2009). In the case of the Romaine, 500km of river would become a series of four reservoirs.

Dams create greenhouse gases. When dams are built in Québec large areas of Boreal Forest are flooded. As a result, organic matter decomposes and releases methane and carbon dioxide. Currently, it is estimated that Canadian reservoirs contribute 12% to total Canadian greenhouse gas emissions (Rosenberg et al., 1997).

Dams create mercury contamination. Inorganic mercury is present in our soils. It has been there for thousands of years as a result of volcanic activity and levels are increasing more recently as a result of human activity.Stored in the soil, this type of mercury is relatively safe. Unfortunately, when areas are flooded and bacteria begin to digest the flooded soils, inorganic mercury changes to methylmercury. Methymercury is a potent neurotoxin. As a result of reservoirs, mercury is released into the food chain, contaminating zooplankton, fish, birds, mammals and humans who rely on river ecosystems. After dam construction, fish in the rivers cannot be consumed for up to thirty years. Despite claims that methylmercury in reservoirs will return to normal levels after thirty years, it is becoming apparent that it can take longer and concentration will never be as low as they were before reservoir creation.

Dams cause habitat fragmentation. As a result of Hydro Québec dams, 28 000 km2 of Quebec’s Boreal Forest as been flooded (Hydro Quebec web page), an area the size of Haiti. The Romaine River will add 278km2 of flooded area. As a result, habitats for wild animals become divided. In addition to flooding, 227km of new roads will be build, enabling the encroachment of other human activities such as forestry and mining, which further fragment habitats.

Dams create biodiversity loss. As a result of habitat fragmentation, wildlife is less able to reproduce and populations suffer. Changing a river ecosystem into that of a reservoir also causes biodiversity loss as species can no longer live in their new habitat. Furthermore, ocean ecosystems change. Freshwater flow into the oceans is the most influential factor affecting marine life in estuaries. When freshwater flow is altered as a result of hydroelectric dams, entire marine ecosystems are affected.

Rivers are spiritual places. They are the arteries and the veins of the Earth. When we turn Rivers into reservoirs, we loose a connection to our Earth. It is through energy conservation that we can protect our wild rivers. Until governments and corporations voluntarily do more, we will continue to demand more from them.

Our demands:

1. A halt to the recently-initiated hydroelectric project on the Romaine River

2. A moratorium on hydroelectric dam development, including the Little Mecatina

3. Protected status for the full length of the Romaine River

4. Good-faith land title negotiations with First Nations

5. Adopt a conservation based energy strategy with full public accountability

6. End energy subsidies to big business

7. A system of government grants and incentives to support small-scale renewable energies

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