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Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project

Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project
    Book Description:

    The first mega-scale hydro project to be built in the sub-Arctic, capable of generating as much electricity as fifteen nuclear power plants, its impact includes disruption of vast areas in an extremely fragile ecosystem as well as displacement of native peoples and the introduction of dangerous levels of mercury into their food supply. The debate over these complex environmental issues has been further complicated by political issues stemming from the importance of the project to the economic development of Quebec and the sale of at least ten percent of the electricity generated the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6773-3
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    James F. Horning
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    • 1 Introduction to the Issues
      (pp. 3-18)

      Not so long ago, policy analysts and members of the general public alike equated progress with megaprojects involving the exploitation of natural resources and, more particularly, large-scale efforts to harness the energy latent in the flow of major rivers. On this account, the Tennessee Valley Authority transformed a relatively backward area of the American South into an economically productive region. The Bonneville Power Administration contributed greatly to the industrialization of the Pacific Northwest. The development of the Colorado River played a key role in the emergence of California as a showcase for American agriculture. These American initiatives - largely products...

    • 2 Hydroelectric Power Development at James Bay: Establishing a Frame of Reference
      (pp. 19-38)

      The James Bay project in northern Quebec ranks among the world’s largest hydroelectric developments, comparable in scale with such proposed developments as the Narmada dam in India, the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze in China, the Challawa Gorge dam in Nigeria, and the Xingu project in Brazil. Endeavours of such scale have become shrouded in a common curtain of controversy. Their merit as instruments of economic development is challenged; their intrusion on local or indigenous people - people who are not the principal beneficiaries of the proposed development - is protested; and their substantial restructuring of the landscape produces...


    • 3 James Bay: Environmental Considerations for Building Large Hydroelectric Dams and Reservoirs in Quebec
      (pp. 41-72)

      The development of Quebec’s hydroelectric resources at James Bay has been highly controversial. Some conservation groups argue that the building of large generating systems could damage the environment irrevocably, devastate indigenous fish and wildlife, and destroy the culture of the Cree people who live in the region. Others argue that development could produce such long-term effects as global warming and, ultimately, the destruction of the entire James Bay ecosystem. One concern is that these long-term effects may be cumulative in that they are not predictable in any linear fashion. This “longterm cumulative” hypothesis outlines neither a methodology that would allow...

    • 4 Elevated Mercury in Fish as a Result of the James Bay Hydroelectric Development: Perception and Reality
      (pp. 73-92)
      B.D. ROEBUCK

      In the middle of the 1980s, rumours of high levels of mercury in fish from the reservoirs of the Hydro-Québec development in the James Bay region started coming to public attention through brief newspaper, radio, and television accounts. By the early 1990s slightly more detailed reports were appearing in popular and well-respected magazines:Canadian Geographic(Gorrie 1990), theNew York Times Magazine(Verhovek 1992), andNational Geographic(Mitchell 1993). Unfortunately, these accounts dealt superficially with the mercury problem and were of virtually no value in the assessment of the seriousness of elevated mercury levels in fish caused by the hydroelectric...

    • 5 The Cree People of James Bay: Assessing the Social Impact of Hydroelectric Dams and Reservoirs
      (pp. 93-120)

      In 1975 the Cree, Inuit, Province of Quebec, Canadian federal government, Hydro-Québec, and two development corporations signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. In the eyes of Hydro-Québec the Cree have been paid a total of over $450 million in return for the right to develop all three phases of the James Bay hydroelectric system. From the perspective of the Cree the agreement was signed under duress: construction of access roads had begun in 1971, work on the first dam had begun in 1973, and an injunction briefly halting construction had been overturned on appeal.

      Approximately twelve thousand Cree...

    • 6 Culture, Social Change, and Cree Opposition to the James Bay Hydroelectric Development
      (pp. 121-140)

      This chapter examines Cree opposition to the proposed Great Whale hydro project. Obviously, the project represented different things to different people. For many Québéquois, it was both a major potential source of employment and an important contribution to Quebec’s future nationalist (but not necessarily separatist) economic development strategy. For environmentalists it represented a major alteration to a complex and delicate subarctic ecosystem, with several potentially serious impacts. But for the aboriginal peoples of the area, the Cree and the Inuit, the project did not just involve the alteration of the area’s physical environment: it would introduce major social changes to...

    • 7 Contemporary Cree Art in Northern Quebec A Northern Artist's Look at the Impact of James Bay Hydroelectric Development on the Art and Craft of the James Bay Cree
      (pp. 141-158)

      Since 1975 the Quebec-owned utility Hydro-Québec has been diverting and damming major rivers in the province to produce hydroelectric power on a very large scale. The damming of rivers and the introduction of roads, television, and other modern services have had a dramatic impact on the traditional way of life of the Cree Indians, the region’s indigenous inhabitants. Many studies have been done and much has been said in political, scholarly, and popular forums about the positive and the negative aspects of these changes on the Cree. Employment patterns and income levels, life expectancy, educational opportunities, subsistence activity, and many...

  9. APPENDIX Chronology of Hydro-Québec Development on James Bay
    (pp. 159-160)
  10. The Authors
    (pp. 161-164)
  11. Index
    (pp. 165-169)