BC Hydro failing to compensate for environmental damage

BC Hydro and its environmental rehabilitation program are failing their obligation to compensate for environmental damage

Conservationists demand a full investigation by Auditor General Michael Pickup

BC Hydro funds intended to compensate for the massive ecological impact of its hydroelectric dams are instead being used to subsidize the ordinary functions of government, while neglecting habitat restoration.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation and the UVic Environmental Law Centre have submitted a 66-page brief to the Auditor General of British Columbia calling for a full audit and examination of the Crown corporation’s funding of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – and that program’s failure to meet its legal obligations.

It has long been recognized that BC Hydro is obligated to compensate for the impacts of its operations on fish and wildlife and their habitat, and that principle is specifically described in Hydro’s water licenses in the Columbia and Peace regions. To uphold these legal and moral obligations, BC Hydro annually funds the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program to distribute the Hydro funding to individual fish and wildlife compensation projects.
But rather than spending that money on habitat restoration to actively compensate for the damage caused by the footprint impacts of its dams, too often those funds flow to ordinary government functions such as monitoring, studies and public education, the brief notes.

“It’s great to teach kids about the environment and to be safe around bears, but that’s not replacing the thousands of square kilometres of wildlife habitat and spawning grounds destroyed by BC Hydro dams,” said Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director of the UVic Environmental Law Centre. “Those funds should truly compensate for the vast, rich valleys lost to hydroelectric development on the Columbia and the Peace.”

In the Peace Region, dam construction led to the permanent loss of at least 1,500 square kilometres of habitat. Another 600 square kilometres of habitat was destroyed in the Columbia Region.

“Adding insult to injury, the Compensation Programs are wildly underfunded,” he said. “Our American neighbours spend more than 40 times more than we do through a program meant to restore the damage done by their dams.”

The Compensation Program for BC’s Columbia Region spends around $5.5 million on ecological compensation annually. In Washington State, the US Bonneville Power Administration spent $788 million on fish and wildlife in 2019, including $240 million on direct-funded ecological compensation projects in the Columbia Basin. That’s 43 times more direct funding than B.C. on an area just twice as large.

“BC Hydro’s dam and reservoir footprint has ruined endangered white sturgeon habitat, flooded out critical winter range for moose, mule deer, elk, and endangered mountain caribou, and destroyed some of the most diverse and productive lands on the continent,” said BC Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Zeman.

“BC Hydro never wanted to pay for the damage it has done and has focused spending public dollars on things that make BC Hydro look good, but do little for fish and wildlife,” said Zeman. “While our neighbours to the south spend hundreds of millions to get salmon back and restore wildlife populations, BC Hydro is ensuring we manage fish and wildlife to zero,” he said.

To read the full report, download the pdf below: