Impact of Site C Dam on B.C. Farmland Far More Dire Than Reported, Local Farmers Show
“Clay and Katy Peck are just the type of young farming family that B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says his government wants to support to ensure “a reliable food source for years to come.”
The Pecks own a 65-hectare farm in the Agricultural Land Reserve overlooking the Peace River, and are preparing for organic certification of a fruit and vegetable business to serve the northern area around Fort St. John.
The couple’s farm is high enough above the Peace River that it is not included in BC Hydro’s tally of 6,469 hectares of farmland — an area larger than all the farmland in Richmond — that will be destroyed by the Site C dam and its vast reservoir.
But the Pecks, along with other Peace Valley farmers, stand to lose significant amounts of farmland and crops to Site C in previously uncounted ways. The likely impact of Site C on agricultural land has been routinely underreported and will be far more dire than widely expected, according to scientists and information found in BC Hydro reports.
Work on the $8.8 billion dam project began in August and continues around the clock despite three on-going court cases by First Nations, missing federal government permits, and BC Hydro’s continuing failure to demonstrate the need for Site C electricity.
In addition to the agricultural land BC Hydro counts as permanently lost to Site C, another 5,900 hectares of farmland falls within what BC Hydro calls a “stability impact zone” and is at risk of destruction. BC Hydro insists a further 1,125 hectares of farmland — an area about the size of four Stanley Parks — will be lost only on a “temporary” basis during the next 10 years, but farmers and a soil scientist question whether topsoil on the land can ever be replaced.
The list of agricultural land lost temporarily to Site C includes 203 hectares of agricultural land in a Flood Impact Zone that may experience “crop losses when flooding occurs,” according to BC Hydro. Collapsing Peace River banks will create a landslide-generated wave that will sweep over an additional 174 hectares of prime farmland. Since water will not remain on the fields forever, BC Hydro does not include these areas in its tally of permanently lost farmland, even though flooding and waves can cause soil erosion and leave behind debris.
“In my view this is a permanent loss,” says Vancouver soil scientist Eveline Wolterson. “It’s like a tsunami. Essentially what it does is it eats away at topsoil. It will all get washed into the reservoir. They’ll never be able to restore those soils.””