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BC Hydro falling short on environmental obligations, conservation group claims

BC Wildlife Federation calls for auditor general to examine electric company
An upstream view of BC Hydro’s Strathcona Dam. The company is under fire from the BC Wildlife Federation, which says BC Hydro isn’t meeting its environmental compensation requirements. (BC Hydro photo)

A conservation group is calling for an audit of BC Hydro over what it claims to be a failure on the part of the company to uphold its legal and moral obligations to directly compensate for the loss of habitat due to hydroelectric dams.

In a submission Tuesday (April 19) to province’s auditor general, prepared by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, the BC Wildlife Federation argues BC Hydro is neither providing enough funding for environmental efforts, nor consistently directing that funding to appropriate causes.

BC Hydro is required to compensate for the impact its 82 dams have on the environment, under the Water Sustainability Act and agreements with the provincial government. Since the late 1980s, its done so by funneling annual funding through the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.

The BC Wildlife Federation takes issue with where part of that funding has been going, though. It says some is going to environmental causes unrelated to dam impact and some is going to projects the provincial government should be financing itself.

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In a review of initiatives taken by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program between 2014 and 2022, UVic’s Environmental Law Centre found only 86 per cent of annual funding in the Columbia region and 30 per cent of annual funding in the Peace region were spent directly or partially on compensatory action.

About three per cent ($1.2 million) and 4.8 per cent ($514,901) of the funding in the Columbia and Peace regions, respectively, went to initiatives the review determined had nothing to do with restoring dam-disturbed habitat – such as a project that promotes coexistence between grizzly bears and humans, one that helps construct infrastructure to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and one that provides education to elementary and secondary school students.

The remaining funds went to research or monitoring projects without any clear link to on-the-ground action, according to the review.

Some initiatives, like funding anti-collision infrastructure and tackling invasive species, are the responsibility of the provincial government, the BC Wildlife Federation says.

It agrees that each of the funded projects are important ones, but says BC Hydro has a responsibility to compensate for its actions specifically.

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The wildlife federation also argued the electric company should be contributing more.

On average between 2014 and 2022, BC Hydro provided approximately $5.5 million each year to its compensation efforts for the Columbia region. By contrast, the U.S. electric company controlling the American section on the Columbia River Basin spent $240 million on ecological compensation projects in 2019.

The BC Wildlife Federation suggests BC Hydro both increase its funding and relinquish control to how it is earmarked to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The group also suggests bringing in an independent third-party to conduct administration and annual reporting of the funding.

A spokesperson for BC Hydro said the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program already operates independently from the utility company, and only funds priority projects that align with its action plan. The spokesperson added that if the auditor general does wish to examine things, the company will be happy to comply.

Black Press Media has reached out to the envronment ministry and Office of the Auditor General for comment.


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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