Thanks to the hard work of our employees and the collaboration of our many partners, we have successfully implemented many different programs, ranging from the training of Crees for skilled jobs with Hydro-Quebec (over 50 Crees now occupy permanent positions), the rejuvenation of Cree community and family fisheries, the support of numerous cultural activities including summer gatherings and the enhancement of goose hunting facilities. This is not to mention the hundreds of kilometres of snowmobile and ATV trails already built throughout Eeyou Istchee.
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Aftermath of a diversion
Mother Nature is showing that she has a few tricks up her sleeve
The impacts of the Rupert River diversion may have been predictable – for the most part – but that hasn't lessened the disruption and pain that have followed in the wake of the emotional dam closing ceremony on November 7.
And while many Cree were in mourning for the river in the following days, people who use the Rupert on a regular basis downstream from the dam were surprised at how sudden and drastic the changes in the river occurred. Less well documented are the upstream impacts, but already stories are surfacing that the water is not always following its predicted course, as the Nation's cover photo vividly illustrates.
There are also issues over unexpected waterborne debris and, especially, over the safety of drinking water from the river. Along the diversion route and downstream from the dam, Hydro-Québec is reportedly advising people against drinking the river water, which has never been an issue in the past.
"The water went down way faster than we thought it would," said Freddy Jolly, a Cree tallyman whose hunting camps are just downstream from the dam on the Rupert River. Many more areas of the river are now impassable, he observed. "There was no way to use some rapids that we always have gone down; there were huge rocks exposed and there wasn't enough water in the river."
Having flown over the area before and after the doors were closed, Jolly was able to visually document the changes in the river. His photos that accompany this article bear witness to a radical change in the natural landscape, both in the dried-up shorelines that flank a vastly diminished river, and in the obviously unpredictable flooding that occurred above the dam.
Indeed, the Nation's cover photo of a partially submerged forest is evidence of a situation that was not supposed to happen: from painful experience, Crees already know that flooded trees cause an increase in methylmercury levels in the water, which in turn contaminates the food fish that the Cree depend upon.
Down on the James Bay coast, meanwhile, residents of Waskaganish watched as their beloved Smoky Hill community gathering place severely changed character. The usual approach to the traditional fishing and recreational site had to be abandoned given the distance from the new shoreline on the river.
"Never in my life have I seen the river in that state, not even during the height of the driest, hottest summers," said local resident Ian Diamond.
More disturbing, noted Diamond, was that the intake pipes for Waskaganish's new $25-million water filtration plant were suddenly exposed by the rapidly falling water levels. "The pipe was visible above the water," said Diamond, a trained journalist who works as a liaison officer for the Newco mining company.
The scare over water supply in Waskaganish led the Société d'enérgie de la Baie James (SEBJ) – the division of Hydro-Québec created to managed the diversion project – to hurriedly open the taps on the river.
According to SEBJ spokesperson Yves Barrette, the amount of water released by the Rupert dam was more than tripled in mid-November as a "preventive measure." During normal operation of the diversion, about 127 cubic metres of water per second are to be released through the natural course of the river. On November 17, the SEBJ announced that the flow would be immediately increased to 400 cubic metres a second. Before the diversion, the river's flow amounted to about 650 cubic metres per second.
In addition, the SEBJ promised that a pump would be installed near the plant so that the intake can be supplied with additional water if needed. The community of Waskaganish "will have sufficient water," Barrette insisted.
As for inadvertent flooding issues above the Rupert River dam, however, the SEBJ spokesperson says he hasn't heard of any problems. Barrette said these problems were unlikely because the reservoirs wouldn’t be completely filled until next spring given the decreased water flow in winter conditions.
Others aren't so sure. Nemaska council advisor and vocal Rupert diversion opponent Bertie Wapachee thinks Hydro-Québec is not being completely transparent about the initial impacts of the diversion.
"Hydro-Québec is trying to limit the information that goes out about what has really happened," Wapachee told the Nation.
"People have found areas that were supposed to be flooded but weren't, and other areas that were not supposed to be flooded but were covered in water. It's clear that, downstream, there just wasn't enough flow," he noted. "It looks like their predictions weren't accurate. They miscalculated at Waskaganish. There is a huge shallow area there that when there was a low tide there was no flow of water. They don't want to say what's really happening. We're not getting the whole story."
The SEBJ did issue a warning on December 14, to "strongly" discourage people from travelling on the ice in the Rupert diversion bay area during the entire winter.
"This area should be avoided, as the water level in the Rupert diversion bays has been rising steadily since the Rupert River was partially diverted on November 7," said the SEBJ statement.
The Rupert diversion bay section begins at the closure point at kilometre 314 of the Rupert River and extends northward to the Lemare and Nemiscau rivers. Added the SEBJ: "We also urge you to exercise extreme caution when travelling along the Rupert River, as there are eight active construction sites between kilometre 314 and Waskaganish."
In his State of the Nation interview in this issue, Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come acknowledges that Hydro-Québec is experiencing problems during the initial phase of the diversion, attributing them to learning bumps. He promised the Grand Council would closely monitor the situation and to implement a Water Management Agreement signed before construction commenced to address any problems that may arise. Coon Come also said another agreement is in the works and will address the needs of trappers.
One trapper whose needs are not being met is Freddy Jolly. He angrily points to photos that show his beaver traps left high and dry following the diversion, with the water several metres below the depth that the beavers need for their lodge – and Jolly needs for his traps.
On a deeper level, Jolly is in anguish over the wound to the culture of the James Bay Crees. He is bitter that no leaders were present at the November 7 dam closing ceremony.
"None of our leaders showed up, except for the Youth Grand Chief, Stacy Bear. Not even the bosses of Hydro-Québec were there," Jolly observed. "But the people were hurting, and Mother Earth was hurt. Our leaders needed to come and put their arms around their people. Many people were crying. The youth were there and they were angry. There was a lot of anger toward our leaders because they didn't show up. I said to myself, 'What's this? Is this our culture?'"