On January 28, 2021 Green Party of Manitoba Leader James Beddome sent a letter to the Minister of Conservation and Climate urging that the final license for the Churchill River Diversion project should not be granted until:

  1. The fundamental and Constitutional obligations to consult and accommodate impacted Indigenous communities are satisfied;
  2. A full assessment, including traditional ecological knowledge, on the cumulative effects of past hydroelectric dams in Manitoba and the potential future impacts from construction of more  connected projects and their future decommissioning would have on the entire watershed is completed and available. 
  3. The Churchill River Diversion (CRD) project become compliant with not only The Water Power Act, but additionally with legislation such as The Environment Act (Manitoba) and the Impact Assessment Act (Canada), with such a review to include an independent public citizens review process; 
  4. The Lake Winnipeg Regulation (LWR) project become compliant with not only The Water Power Act, but additionally with legislation such as The Environment Act (Manitoba) and the Impact Assessment Act (Canada), with such a review to include an independent public citizens review process; 
  5. That the such a review of the CRD and LWR be a broad systems wide review of the entire Manitoba Hydro hydroelectric system, including not only the above aforementioned projects but all hydroelectric and water control projects, both those currently in existence as well as all of those that are anticipated at some future point.  

Churchill River Diversion – Overview

In 1973 Manitoba Hydro was granted an interim license under The Water Power Act to operate the CRD. The CRD diverts most of the water from the Churchill River into the Rat River–Burntwood River–Nelson River system. This is done through control structures and diversion channels that Drastically expand South Indian Lake and Rat Lake converting them into impoundment reservoirs. Impacted Indigenous Nations and peoples were not even informed until 1973 even though officials had been planning the project for nearly a decade.   

Manitoba Hydro has not even been held to the terms of the original interim licence for the CRD. For the past 35 years, beginning in 1986, Hydro has operated on annual permits, known as the Augmented Flow Program (AFP), that allows our utility to raise water levels even higher and to engineer greater water fluctuations than set out in the original 1973 interim Water Power Act licence.

It is hard to overstate the massive scale and impact the series of hydroelectric projects, which required the Churchill River Diversion interim licence and Lake Winnipeg Regulation interim licence, have had on the entirety of Manitoba’s communities, environment, and economy. Loss of opportunity, rights, access to lands resulting have had effects beyond Manitoba.

These projects fundamentally altered the landscape and biodiversity of the province. Diverting 85 percent of the flow of the mighty Churchill River through the Rat-Burntwood river system into the Nelson River system, causing, and maintaining flooding and social devastation along the waterways. Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake on the planet, also operates as the 3rd largest hydroelectric reservoir on the planet. 

These immense engineering projects alter the entire natural water systems in our province and beyond, and they are how Manitoba produces most of its electricity. 

The original flooding created by these projects desecrated burial sites, and historically significant areas, blocking access to traplines, fisheries, and ability to exercise Indigenous rights. 

The fluctuations in water levels, ice build-ups, mercury contamination, impacted fish and wildlife populations, racial and sexual abuse by Hydro employees and contractors are only some of the ongoing issues. 

As Manitobans we all need to acknowledge that these impacts are not in the past, they continue on a day to day basis for those impacted.

These projects were also subject to not only provincial permits but also federal permissions under the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act (as it was then, now the Canadian Navigable Waters Act), the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and other permits as required at the time. These immense projects were also funded by both federal and provincial government funds.   

A full independent, public, ecological, economic, and social assessment of the hydroelectric dams system built on the Nelson and Churchill River systems has never been conducted. (Wuskwatim and Keeyask only have environment licences.) Modern environmental assessment laws had not yet come into existence in Manitoba, and thus the CRD and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects were never subject to the same level of review they would be today.

The impacts of hydroelectric development on Manitoba are immense and ongoing today. 

As the Wa Ni Ska Tan (an alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities, academics, and social justice NGOs) succinctly summarizes in its letter to the Minister:

As an Alliance we have been documenting the many adverse impacts of hydro development in Manitoba, which are environmental, economic, cultural, and social in nature. The construction of mega dams throughout Northern Manitoba and their accompanying “man camps” have resulted and are still resulting in rape and sexual assault, racism, substance abuse, displacement and relocation of entire communities, the loss of traditional livelihoods, suicide, environmental degradation caused by construction, hydro corridors, fluctuating water levels, and flooding. This same environmental degradation leads to boating and snowmobile accidents,injuries, and deaths. This is far from an exhaustive list, but these impacts give you an idea of what happens when a crown corporation is allowed to operate with limited accountability and little to no meaningful consultation with the communities they are impacting.

The recent final report of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also called for a Public Inquiry into the sexual violence and racism at hydroelectric projects in northen Manitoba.

Since 2006 the Green Party of Manitoba has taken the position that no new dams should be built until a full assessment, importantly including traditional ecological knowledge, on the cumulative effects of past hydroelectric dams in Northern Manitoba and the potential future ecological impact that the construction of more dams and their future decommissioning would have on the entire watershed. 

That same year the Clean Environment Commission recommended that the Government of Manitoba resolve all outstanding historical  issues with regard to the Churchill River Diversion, the Augmented Flow Program and Lake Winnipeg Regulation, and following resolution of these issues, that Manitoba Hydro apply for final licenses under The Water Power Act and Environment Act

Three premiers and several Hydro megaprojects later, little has been done to address these historical issues. 

Take Action

Please sign the survey and consider writing a letter to the Minister yourself. To assist we are posting other letters posted by other impacted individuals.

Read more:

Final hope for those impacted by Churchill River Diversion possibly to be snuffed out” by Christopher Read APTN Oct. 23, 2020

State of erosion: the legacy of Manitoba Hydro” and “What the Amazon and Manitoba have in common” by Aaron Vincent Elkaim The Narwhal Nov. 2020

Augment FlowWan Ni Ska Tan Blog Dec. 3, 2018

Manitoba Hydro ProjectsManitoba Wildlands