Wild Border Watersheds

PROJECT: Iskut River Hydroelectric Dams Project

Three hydroelectric projects owned by AltaGas will form one of North America’s largest complexes of river diversion dams

Photo Credit: Mike Fay

Overview

Project Map BCEA Project Status

The Iskut River hydroelectric project, located on the Iskut River, 40 km/25 miles west of Bob Quinn Lake in northwest B.C., consists of three closely spaced river diversion dams – Forrest Kerr, McLymont Creek, and Volcano Creek – the latter two of which are still under construction. AltaGas Renewable Energy owns all three facilities. The company has obtained a 60-year contract with BC Hydro to purchase power to feed into the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL). Power generated from this hydroelectric complex could be used primarily to power mining development in the region.

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Completed in 2014, Forrest Kerr is producing 195 megawatts of electrical power. McLymont Creek will eventually produce 66 MW. Volcano Creek will generate 16 MW. Both of the smaller dams are scheduled to be completed in 2015. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the trigger for a comprehensive review process for river diversion dams is 200 megawatts. If all three dams were included, the project would produce 277 MW, enough to trigger a federal comprehensive environmental assessment. Despite close proximity, interconnectivity and ownership by a single company, the river diversion dams were treated as separate projects and did not go through a comprehensive review. Forest Kerr and McLymont Creek received separate Environmental Assessment Certificates from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. The Volcano Creek project is under the size limit requirement for an environmental assessment.

Impacts

The Iskut River hydroelectric project could lead to escalating cumulative impacts and piece-meal degradation of key habitat areas in the watershed. The lower Iskut River provides up to 40% of the spawning, rearing and migration habitat for the wild Pacific salmon that return to the Iskut-Stikine watershed each year. While river diversion dams are relatively new, and the impacts are still under study, scientists believe river diversion dams likely cause changes in downstream sediment levels and water flow that could impact juvenile salmon and alter key spawning habitat.

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The Iskut River drainage is also home to grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, raptors, American marten and wolverines. Roads built to Forrest Kerr and McLymont Creek through the previously roadless Iskut River valley increase the threats to wildlife and will open the region to further industrial development.

At Forrest Kerr, changes in water flow through the Iskut River canyon could also threaten biodiversity hotspots which shelter many rare species of plants and are critical habitat for several species endemic to northwestern B.C. With these river diversion dams, the North American electrical grid will be just 40 km/25 miles from the Alaska-B.C. border, increasing the possibility of an Alaska/B.C. intertie crossing over what is currently a roadless and wild transboundary border. Localized effects on the Iskut River Canyon and the lower Iskut River, and cumulative impacts on the ecological integrity of the Iskut-Stikine watershed could result from the river diversion dams.

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Iskut River Hydroelectric Dams Project British Columbia Environmental Assessment Process

INITIAL PROPOSAL
SUBMITTED

Scope and
process for
review
determined by
EAO

Application
Information
Requirements
(30-day public
comment period)

APPLICATION
SUBMITTED

Application
evaluated for
completeness by
EAO

Application review
(Public comment
period)

Assessment report
prepared by EAO

DECISION BY
MINISTER

Pre-application: no time limit

Completion evaluation: 30 days

Application review: 180 days

Decision: 45 days