Course:CONS200/2019/Socio-ecological costs and benefits of the Site-C dam

From UBC Wiki

History of the Site-C dam

Flooding Area of Site C in Peace River Valley

In September 1980, the project was firstly proposed by BC Hydro as the third dam after W.A.C Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon Dam which were respectively built on the Peace River in 1968 and 1980.  After a 2-year hearing, in 1983, the application of this project was recommended to be rejected according to BC utilities commission’s report.  The project was then forgone at present.

In April 2010, site C was reconsidered when the BC government announced to move forward this project because of its benefits: the project would be put into a phase of regulatory review and it would ensure the meets of requirement including First Nation issue and environmental assessment.

In October 2014, the environmental assessment approvals were sent by the federal and provincial government.  In December, Site C was approved to process a construction.  Also in 2015, BC Hydro released the notice of commencing site C construction.

In 2017, by the time when New Democratic government take into power, a second BC Utilities Commission review was asked which were supposed to focus on the detail at the cost and actual need for the project.  In the same year’s November, that report was released, according to which, there was still no conclusion to either complete or cancel the site C.

Benefits of the Site-C dam

In the long term energy planning process for BC hydro, new resources are needed to meet long term electric power needs. Compared with other power generation methods like coal and fossil fuels, Site C offers the best combination of financial, technological, environmental and economic development characteristics.

Sociological benefits

Benefit to local communities

The latest employment statistics show that as of February 2018, there were 2,086 workers on the Site C project. Of all employees, 1,803 were from British Columbia, which equals to 86 percent. 642 workers on the site are from the Peace River Regional District, equals to 41 percent of the construction and non-construction contractor's labor force.[1]

A federal-provincial joint review panel made 50 recommendations for the $8 billion C dam, concluding that the project has clear benefits. Despite the high initial costs, the project will provide companies with significant long-term growth in energy and capacity, which will benefit future generations, the report said.[2]

The benefits to local communities from the Site C project are mainly for building a better social environment for people, which includes improved transportation infrastructure, expanded recreation and tourism opportunities, support workers living locally, support for community service and infrastructure, increased access to skills and trades training, and increased regional government revenues and economic activities.[3]

Improved transportation infrastructure

BC Hydro has proposed a number of measures to improve transport infrastructure in peaceful areas, such as upgrading roads and expressways and monitoring the condition of the roads associated with the project.

Expanded recreation and tourism opportunities

The construction and operation of Site C will provide new and expanded recreation and tourism opportunities for residents of the Peace region, such as new boat launches and day use areas, a public viewpoint of the dam site and funding for community recreation sites.

Support workers living locally

To support housing options for workers, BC Hydro is working with BC Housing to build new housing units in Fort St. John, provide new daycare spaces in Fort St. John, and add new long-stay RV spaces at Peace Island Park.

Support for community service and infrastructure

BC Hydro is proposing a variety of measures to support non-profit organizations in the Peace Region during construction, along with other measures to reduce the impact of the project on community services and infrastructure.

Increased access to skills and trades training

To help increase the availability of local labour, BC Hydro has invested approximately $1.5 million in a number of skills and trades training programs.

Increased regional government revenues and economic activities

In addition to provincial benefits, Site C will result in increased revenues and economic development in the region during construction and operations.

Benefit to the economics

The Site C dam project can be a major economic contributor.Project construction will increase government revenue at the regional, provincial and federal levels. For example, during the construction process, local tax revenue accumulated $40 million dollars. About $2 million per year use for local government vouchers and school taxes. As part of a regional heritage interest agreement, $2.4 million is provided annually to the Peace River Regional District and its member communities. The annual funding period is 70 years, starting at the operational time of Site C and linked to inflation. Moreover, the project pays the provincial government $35 million a year in water bills. Provincial revenue of $179 million and federal construction activity revenue of $270 million will be generated during construction.[4]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes that provinces or the whole country can discuss how to improve environmental pollution. He suggested highlighting the benefits of hydropower and creating opportunities to reduce the use of coal and natural gas. Where possible, such a move would help achieve the goal of reducing emissions and boosting economic growth.[5]

Ecological benefits

Benefit to the ecological system

According to reasons based on which the site C was reconsidered announced by BC government in April 2010, Site C will produce among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per gigawatt-hour, when compared with other forms of electricity generation. This will help B.C. further displace fossil fuel-generated electricity with clean energy.

A report released on December 6 in 2012 from Stantec called "Site C Clean Energy Project: Greenhouse Gases Technical report "shows that Site C dam would express less GHG emission as an electricity generation facility compared with other fossil fuel generating options. According to this report, a 100-year operational lifespan of this facility would generate the net emission intensity as 11.4 g CO 2 e/kWh estimated by a conservative scenario or 8.5 g CO 2 e/kWh estimated by a likely scenario under a context in 2012. Compared with that, the either fossil fuel option such as 1,000 g Co 2 e/kWh for modern coal plants, 717 g CO 2 e/kWh for diesel or 545 g CO 2 e/kWh for natural gas combined cycle contributes a high level of GHG emission.[6]

Costs of the Site-C dam

Sociological costs

Construction of Site-C dam has been criticized on First Nation issues by many human rights organizations. It is concerned that the construction would have severe impacts on Indigenous populations in the region. The debate has been ongoing between First Nations and the dam advocates.

Impacts on Indigenous Populations

Indigenous people say the Site-C dam violates their rights which should be protected under a historical treaty.

The Peace River, which is the construction site of the dam, has its significant relationship with the First Nations in the northeast side of the province. Construction of Site-C dam would turn 83km long stretch of the Peace River Valley into a reservoir, and the loss of a vital part of the territory would severely harm the indigenous groups populate in the region including Dane-zaa, Cree, and Métis.[7] An independent environmental assessment concluded that the dam and the extensive development of the region would undermine the indigenous people's crucial cultural and economic practices, livelihood and health; Canadian academics who reviewed the assessment claimed that the number and scope of the harms identified by the assessment was "unprecedented in the history of environmental assessment in Canada.[7] Some criticize that the project failed to give proper consideration to Canada's legal obligations to protect indigenous rights as set out in an treaty between the state and First Nations, the Constitution, and the international law, which require a high and rigorous standard of protection to ensure that Indigenous peoples are not harmed by development on their lands and territories.[7] Generally, any large-scale resource development with potential risk of serious harm to the rights of Indigenous peoples can only be proceeded with their informed consent.[8]

Impacts on Local Workers

Workers in the resource industry in the Peace River region are generally paid considerably higher than the national average. The high wages attract thousands of short-term and temporary workers from all over the country that would fulfill the labor force that cannot be filled within the relatively small local population. Despite the fact that the high wages attract many workers, there is little job security because seasonal cycles of work and shifts in the resource economy often lead to frequent and abrupt layoffs. Furthermore, it has been reported that local Indigenous workers are less likely to be employed in the construction despite the continuous efforts to increase the number.[7] This clearly shows the significant barriers remained within the industry. The large influx of working population to the region and high paid wages have driven up local price as well, while the availability of necessities such as childcare, medical services, and housing has not kept up with the pace of rise.[9] BC Hydro has committed to help deal with the social issues of the Site-C dam, including constructing self-contained work camps to reduce the strain on local communities, opening a small number of rental units and child care spaces, and 50,000 dollars donations to local service providers.[7] These initiatives are laudable, yet they have been made without a transparent, public assessment of the actual needs of the community.

Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

The vast gap between men and women regarding wages and treatment is a critical part of the issue. It is evident that most of the high paying jobs in the industry go to male workers. Average wages of women in the region are found to be below the national average for women, whereas the wages of men are higher than the national average.[7] The Fort St. John Women's Resource Society[10] and the Northern Health division of the provincial health ministry[11] have argued that a combination of low wages and high cost of living for many women can cause a dangerous dependency on a male partner with access to resource industry wages. Especially housing shortages and inflated housing prices make it more difficult for women to overcome the situations where their safety is at risk. Some of many short-term workers who pass through the region are considered as a threat to women's safety. The danger is often followed by highly stressful work culture, which sometimes includes binge-drinking and drug abuse in the down-time between shifts. In fact, Fort St. John had the highest per capital crime e rate and the highest case load per police officer among 31 British Columbia municipalities.[12]

Ecological costs

Damming the Peace was not without environmental costs. The Site-C dam with an 83-kilometer reservoir would cause significant effects on habits of terrestrial flora and fauna, climate of the area, and biodiversity[13]. The loss of habitats is able to result in the loss of biodiversity. The ecosystem foundations potentially decreased in local area due to the loss of biodiversity.

Impacts on fish and fish habits

The construction of the dam caused direct effects on fish habits. It leads to the loss of fish habits in downstream. The most abundant fish species in this region are mountain whitefish, Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, northern pike, and yellow walleye[14]. The fish habitats were altered because of the construction of the dam. Approximately 198.5 ha of fish habitat primarily in the Peace River was lost due to the construction of the dam and generating station; it also affected some channel area where provides spawning, rearing, feeding and wintering habitats for several species[15] (e.g. Rainbow trout[14]). Additionally, fish health and survival are under threats because of sediment inputs during the construction of dam[15].

Keep the Peace sign protesting the dam construction.

Impacts on vegetation

The project of Site-C dam would cause significant effects to at-risk and sensitive ecological communities. Report of BC government shows that 277 ha grasslands, 46 old-growth forest, and 796 wetlands would be affected by the construction of dam and generating station[15]. The project potentially affects approximately 142 occurrences of listed vascular plants in the local assessment area. the majority of effects was caused by the construction phase, reservoir filling, and dam construction during site preparation[15].

Impacts on wildlife resources

The impact on wildlife would result from the flooding of the reservoir area. The Peace River region provides more than 20% of the moose harvest in BC, deer are widespread on the floodplain in summer, various small mammals and birds live in this region (i.e. beaver, martin, minks, ducks, Canada geese, sandpipers, killdeers, ruffed grouse, and songbirds).[14]The construction of the dam and site preparation are able to cause the flooding, which would destroy and drown wildlife habitats. The report show that about 20 percent of wildlife habitat would be lost due to the loss of wetland, forest, and grassland during the preparation of the site[15]. Because of the loss of forest, the habits of migratory birds (i.e. songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, marsh birds, etc) are potentially altered[15]. The most significant impacts in this region would be the loss of 125-200 moose, about 250 mule deer, and 1000-3000 ruffed grouse[14]. In addition, the release of water in the winter would have serious effects on the beaver population[13].

Impacts on agricultural land

The major impact of Site C project is the flooding of existing and potential agriculture land[14]. The projects would change the land use for this area; the functions of land would be altered. The loss of agricultural land would be significant due to the construction of the dam and the generating station. About 4,523 hectares of the agricultural land would be affected by the Site C reservoir, 1,373 ha of that would be affected by the reservoir erosion impact, and 573 ha to that would be affected by the Project components[15]. Additionally, a Site C Agricultural Resources Inventory showed that there is a total area of 4,005 hectares of Class 3 or better agricultural capacity within the Site C reservoir area, and this area is potentially affected the Site C project[16]. Moreover, White's research shows that "about 12% of the 52,500 acres within the Agricultural Land Reserve in the lower Peace River valley between the existing Peace Canyon dam and the Alberta border[14].

Impacts on water flows

In downstream, the environmental problems caused by the dam would be due to a lack of water. The dam has the ability to change the water flows. For example, water flows on the Peace reduced 15 to 70 percent after the Bennett Dam was completed[13].


Since its very first proposal in 1980, the Site-C dam has been considered as one of the most controversial projects in British Columbia. It was initially planned to introduce new form of energy source in an effort to meet increasing demand for electric power. However, the project faced a strong opposition from First Nations and environmental groups. Critics have argued that construction of the dam would severely damage the marine environment in the region as well as territorial system, including vegetation and agriculture. The problems become more pivotal when it is linked to the First Nation issues. Changes in natural environment can lead to loss of many crucial marine and territorial species, which are essential in most time to many Indigenous people's livelihood in the area. Problems derived from seasonal inflow of labor force are fatal to local workers and economy. Violence on Indigenous women and girls is an underestimated social problem with the industry as well. Despite the strong voice of opposition, dam advocates argue that benefits outweigh the costs, emphasizing that the project will bring a huge economic revenue, which can be used as basis for social infrastructure in the community. They are also working on developing a way to lower the greenhouse gas emissions and minimize impacts on the environment. Wise decision that satisfies both socially and ecologically is in an urgent need.


  1. "Site C employment" (PDF). BC Hydro. February 2018.
  2. Laanela, Mike (May 08, 2014). "Site C dam review says benefits outweigh costs". CBC News. Retrieved March 13,2019. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  3. "In the community". Site C Clean Energy Project. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  4. "Site C Clean Energy Projects Economic Benefits" (PDF). BC Hydro. March 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  5. O'Neil, Peter (June 20,2016). "Justin Trudeau 'open' to $1-billion B.C. power line into Alberta". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved March 13,2019. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  6. Michael, M., Jean-Michel, D., Joe, H., Karen, G., Christina, F., & Orasa, W. (2012). Site C Clean Energy Project: Greenhouse Gases Technical Report. Stantec Consulting Ltd. 845 Prospect Street Fredericton, NB E3B 2T7. Retrieved from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 "The Point of No Return" (PDF). Amnesty International. 2016.
  8. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Articles 25, 26, 28, 29, 31, 32.
  9. Review Panel Established by the Federal Minister of the Environment and the British Columbia Minister of the Environment. Report of the Joint Review Panel – Site C Clean Energy Project. 1 May 2014. P. 188.
  10. Clarice Eckford and Jillian Wagg, The Peace Project: Gender Based Analysis of Violence against Women and Girls in Fort St. John – revised. The Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society, February 2014.
  11. Northern Health British Columbia. Understanding the State of Industrial Camps in Northern BC: A Background Paper, 17 October 2012.
  12. Statistics Canada. Crime Severity Index values for 239 police services policing communities over 10,000 population. 2011.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Tina Loo, Disturbing the Peace: Environmental Change and the Scales of Justice on a Northern River, Environmental History, Volume 12, Issue 4, October 2007, Pages 895–919,
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Waite, J., & Gruber, H. (1981). Peace River Site C project: environmental studies; development of a mitigation and compensation program; and project licencing. Canadian Water Resources Journal, 6(3), 20-37.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 Swain,H., Beaudet, J., & Mattison, J., (2014). Report of the joint review panel: Site C clean energy project: BC hydro Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
  16. Church, M., Dusyk, N., Evenden, M., Forest, K., Cohen, M. G., Netherton, A., & Peacock, A. (2009). Site C: Considering the Prospect of Another Dam on the Peace River. BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly, (161), 93-114.

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