Eastmain 1-A and Rupert River Diversion Hydropower Project
As part of the northern environmental impact assessment procedure, the Québec government authorized the project based on the recommendation made by COMEX on October 31, 2006, in its report. Given the major impacts of the project, the authorization is accompanied with 97 conditions, which regulate the proponent’s activities during the project construction and operating phases. They are related to the design of structures, to the impacts on the biophysical environment or the impacts on the social setting. The conditions regarding the biophysical environment are generally specific to one of five sectors, which divide the study area indicated in the COMEX report. The conditions for the human environment are more general, in terms of geography.
The authorization conditions add to or complement the commitments made by the proponent throughout the environmental assessment process. These commitments were not reiterated in the authorization conditions, but have been included in the certificate of authorization in the list of documents submitted by the proponent. Several conditions complement these commitments with time benchmarks and indications to the proponent regarding further administrative steps to be issued by the Ministère.
The scope of the project and length of the construction phase is set up so that all decisions related to certain infrastructures or developments cannot be made at this stage of project planning. For example, the decisions concerning the dismantling of workcamps after the construction phase, as well as the final choice of quarry and pit sites, deposal sites or new solid waste disposal sites. Even if these issues are taken into account during project analysis, the level of detail provided would not be sufficient for making a decision right away. Therefore, the proponent must submit this information—once available—for authorization as part of the northern environmental impact assessment procedure. This must be done before the beginning of the works identified in the analysis of the project as having an impact on the environment.
The other conditions in this category refer to the specific requirements regarding works related to river crossings or changes to the access roads to the work sites.
Three of these conditions are of a more general nature and cover the submission of all follow-up programs for the entire study area, as well as the results of the different related programs. These requirements are designed so that the validation of the expected impacts and the success of the mitigation measures will be constantly followed up by the authorities specified in Section II of the Environmental Quality Act, and Section 22 of the Baie-James and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA) and will enable them to intervene, should problems occur. They also specify that the proponent must involve the Crees in all steps of planning and carrying out the follow-up programs and that the programs that have already been carried out for the Eastmain-1 project must be integrated in order to prevent any duplication and promote efficiency. The other conditions are related to one or the other of the five sectors in the study area.
The conditions concern the fish communities in these newly created environments, changes in fish mercury levels, the genetic characterization of brook trout from the Rupert genetic line in the part of the Rupert River between Mistassini Lake and Mesgouez Lake, and the efficiency of spawning grounds set up in various sites in the diversion bays. Avifauna must also be monitored by checking changes in density of waterfowl in the diversion bays and the use of nesting boxes for arboreal ducks. For terrestrial wildlife, the main condition concerns the telemetric monitoring of woodland caribou during the construction and operations phases of the project. Follow-ups on the movements of terrestrial wildlife and on beaver trapping during impoundment are also taken into account. Lastly, the proponent is required to make a new inventory of small mammals to ensure that the biodiversity in the area is maintained.
The most important condition as regards to the protection of aquatic ecosystems, and the most innovative for the Ministère, is the application of adaptive management for the instream flow regime and the requirement that the proponent submit, for approval by the Ministère, changes to the flow regime should the follow-up programs show any disturbance to the aquatic ecosystems.
Other conditions concern the follow-up program of lake cisco, including spring larvae drift, anadromous population structure and monitoring of the efficiency of traditional fishing sites. This population, which is highly abundant in the lower waters of the Rupert River, is a supply source for the Crees of Waskaganish, who fish there in the fall. The lake sturgeon , very common in the river waters, will also be monitored, especially for changes in existing spawning grounds. Like in the diversion bays, a detailed fish mercury levels program is required. A specific problem in the reduced-flow area is the presence of a special status plant species (Gratiola aurea), currently found on the banks of the river, which will be subject to monitoring.
Two issues were brought to the attention of the Ministère and are subject to conditions. First of all, a follow-up on two indicators —total organic carbon and the growth rate of the longnose suckers in the Rupert River estuary and bay must be carried out to ensure that the environment retains its productivity. The other condition involves validating the saltwater intrusion model in Rupert Bay and in the mouth of the Pontax River. Changes are expected in the Rupert Bay, given the drop in flow from the Rupert River, but the conditions in the mouth of the Pontax River should remain the same.
As for the reduced-flow and diversion bay sections, the proponent is required to follow-up on fish mercury levels in order to monitor the channelling of mercury and increases in mercury levels in fish living at the foot of the Eastmain-1-A powerhouse. Following-up on spawning grounds at the exit of the La Sarcelle powerhouse and maintaining fish communities in the stretch of the Eastmain River between the Eastmain-1-A powerhouse and the Opinaca reservoir are also requirements that the proponent must carry out.
A single condition apply, namely the follow-up on eelgrass beds, especially important for a number of species along the east coast of Baie-James. This follow-up is part of the continuity of programs that have been carried out over the past 15 years, and which respond to a specific concern expressed by the Crees of Chisasibi.
These conditions are grouped by topic and are briefly presented here. The diversity of topics discussed clearly shows the significance of these issues and the changes that the project will bring about for Cree society.
The proponent shall work with the Cree Board of Health and
Maintaining the use of the water supply is a specific issue for the Rupert River and its users. Certain conditions require the proponent to monitor the quality of water from the river after the diversion as well as the integrity of drinking water collected from Waskaganish in terms of drops in water levels, silting up and bank stability.
The proponent must set up an infrastructure to receive comments and complaints, and propose solutions to any problem resulting from the dissatisfaction of territory users. Along with this initiative, the proponent must submit the follow-up program on the mitigation and compensation measures that he intends to carry out with tallymen over a ten-to-15-year period. He must include members of the Nemiscau and Wemindji communities in the mapping and identification of navigation corridors and snowmobile travel in the increased-flow sections. With the same goal of ensuring safe travel in the territory, the proponent must monitor ice cover in the Rupert River estuary and on the shores of the Rupert Bay.
Navigation conditions concern the clearing of navigation corridors in the diversion bays as well as map production and following-up on conditions in more critical areas, such as reduced-flow sections. In order to maintain the use of the Rupert River, the proponent must work with Cree communities to maintain the activity known as “canoe brigade” and mark out a navigation canal in the Rupert River estuary and bay. Since navigation over the waterways newly created from land environments could be problematic, the proponent is required to collect wood debris from the sectors deemed to be problematic by trappers.
The proponent must follow-up on sport fishing and hunting activities of workers on the different project work sites and make sure that they know the rules regarding these activities. Information will be complemented by appropriate signage along the new project roads to identify the limits of category I and II lands and specify hunting and fishing restrictions for non-Natives.
A follow-up on the impact of increased access to the territory for tourists and vacationers will be done in cooperation with the Cree and Baie-James authorities in charge of promoting tourism in the area.
In the area of archaeology, the proponent is involved in a vast program of digs and inventories, which will extend throughout the construction phase of the project. The conditions issued for this subject define the scope of the archaeological works and the data processing work. The proponent must also identify the burial grounds that are affected by the project and take steps to preserve the memories of these people or ensure the transfer of the funeral remains, if need be. Following-up on the changes to the landscape, which is part of both the Cree heritage as well as that of other users of the territory, will also have to be carried out and take place during the project construction and operations phases.
The conditions for economic aspects range from annual follow-up on economic spin-offs for the construction and operations phases to broader training opportunities for Cree workers. The objective is to maximize the opportunities that this project represents for acquiring expertise by the Cree as individuals or as entrepreneurs. Training should include not only the construction industry, but also professions related to tourism, ecology or territory management.
These three conditions provide the proponent with a framework to follow for developing emergency measures during construction and operations periods. They are also designed to reassure the communities of Nemiscau, Waskaganish, and in particular Chisasibi regarding their safety with respect to the stability of structures located upstream, through the hiring of Crees as part of the structure monitoring and inspection teams and having the proponent and first two communities agree on monitoring measures for the facilities and for communications.
It was recognized that all hydropower projects on the rivers whose opening is in the James and Hudson’s bays could have an overall impact on water circulation, its seasonal temperature or productivity. However, it is impossible to isolate one responsible factor from another, and this is why the condition for this wide-ranging issue stipulates that the proponent will work with the different government authorities concerned and the academic sector, should a research program regarding these issues were set up.
At the end of the COMEX report, concerns are listed that lead to two conditions for assessing the level of satisfaction of the Crees as regards to this project and following the discussions held between the proponent and the Crees on the cumulative impacts. They were selected, among other things, at the end of interventions by the Cree participants in public hearings regarding the lack of communication between the proponent and the Cree. The proponent must therefore work with COMEX, the permanent organization of the Baie-James and Northern Québec Agreement in order to set up a consultation process with the Cree people around the year 2011. This consultation will permit to get the Cree’s point of view on the efficiency of mitigation measures, which will have been implemented, and the measures that could be considered to overcome the residual impacts of the project.
More specifically, the proponent must report on his discussions with the authorities concerned and the Chisasibi, Nemiscau and Waskaganish communities regarding possible solutions to reduce the cumulative impacts and to facilitate use of another major river for Waskaganish.