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Reality Check

RC-19: What is the Churchill River Diversion (CRD)?

Date Posted: July 16, 2011

In February 1966 Manitoba Hydro announced its intention to divert the Churchill River as part of an overall plan of northern hydro development. An interim license to proceed with the diversion was issued to Manitoba Hydro by the Water Resources Branch of the Manitoba Department of Mines, Resources and Environmental Management in 1972 and the CRD became operational in 1977.

The diversion plan connects the Nelson and Churchill River via the Burntwood River System to store and supply water for hydroelectric generation. The diverted Churchill River provides power at eleven generating sites: four along the Burntwood River, and seven on the Nelson River below Split Lake.

The CRD centres around Southern Indian Lake, a widening in the Churchill River. There are three main components:

  1. A control dam at Missi Falls, the natural outlet of Southern Indian Lake, controls the outflow and also raises the lake level three metres;
  2. An excavated channel from South Bay of Southern Indian Lake to Issett Lake creates a new outlet to allow Churchill water to flow into the Rat River-Burntwood River-Nelson River system.
  3. A control dam at Notigi on the Rat River regulates the flow into the Burntwood-Nelson system.

Diverting the Churchill River has altered the shorelines of Southern Indian Lake and of certain areas above and below the Notigi control structure. The principal effects of flooding are the loss of forested area and marshes (wild animal habitat and trapping grounds) and changes in the pattern of commercial fishing.

After 32 years of operation with interim licensing, in May 2009 Manitoba Hydro applied to Department of Water Stewardship for a permanent 50 year license for the CRD. The June 2009 response from Water Stewardship indicated that a consultation process was "expected to begin in the fall", but to date no public open houses have been held, and little public information regarding the intended permanent license for the CRD is available.

In its Wuskwatim 2004 report and recommendations Manitoba's Clean Environment Commission (CEC) noted that generation stations and the CRD only have interim licenses. The CEC recommended public technical and environmental reviews and licensing processes were needed for each existing generation station and dam, before any new hydroelectric projects are licensed under Manitoba's Environment Act. The CEC was clear - get these reviews and licenses done before any CEC Hydro hearings (pp. 116-118).

The 'licenses' that are in place are only waterpower or water use licenses. There are no environmental licenses in place for the generation stations, CRD, and other structures in Manitoba's Hydro system.

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