Linda Heron, Ontario Rivers Alliance

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Welcome to FieldWork, I’m James Sidney.

Conservation, it could be argued, is all about health. About preserving the integrity of living systems. Later in the broadcast we’ll meet Dr. John Howard and poet Adam Dickinson to hear their thoughts on this broad topic.

But our examination begins with a larger diagnosis of Ontario’s rivers and streams—the arteries of our freshwater resources. Linda Heron, the Chair and CEO of Ontario Rivers Alliance, discusses the misunderstood and often misrepresented hazards of hydroeclectric power. I met with her on the Vermilion River, in Worthington, Ontario.

I do this, everyday, because I have been concerned about all of our future generations and how they will survive on this planet without, clean, healthy, fresh water.

Our rivers are the arteries of Mother Earth. And it’s like in our bodies: if we clog our arteries we get sick, if enough arteries get blocked, then, we die.

Governments will always say that hydroelectric produces clean, green energy. But they know it’s not true. Because there are numerous studies that show the negative impacts from hydroelectric. The reason they’re not clean is because scientists have reported that there are high amounts of methane that come off of these reservoirs, and the new types of power generation on these smaller rivers—small hydro—often will use reservoirs to store water so they can produce power during peak demand hours, and those reservoirs produce methane. And not just for a few years, they produce it for many years. Approximately 5-7% of world greenhouse gas emissions are coming from reservoirs.

Hydroelectric dams have a lot of impacts associated with them. For one thing, the turbines chop up fish. Not many of them have fish-friendly turbines and there are those available. Very few dams have fish passage, so migration of fish to their spawning areas is blocked. And there are only two or three dams in all of Ontario—at least hydroelectric dams—that have fish passage.

Dams also degrade water quality. When water is held back behind a dam in a reservoir the water warms and you get problems with eutrophication and blue-green algae, but water quality is degraded.

These dams are also given a forty year contract to produce power. The proponent will tell you, well these dams will last for seventy-five to a hundred years, but there still should be decommissioning provisions upfront. Dams do fail. And especially now that we’re into climate change, a lot of rivers around the world are drying up. So it’s important with climate change on the horizon that we have dam decommissioning provisions. It’s okay to have a dam, but it needs to be done with fish passage, there needs to be decommissioning provisions, there should be fish-friendly turbines—but none of theses things are requirements. And that’s one of the main reasons for the decline of our fisheries in Ontario. So, we would like to see that change.

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