Hydropower demand is damaging Indigenous lands


Many U.S. states are setting renewable energy goals, turning to hydropower as a cheap source of cleaner energy. But for Inuit hunters in far eastern Canada, Americans’ demand for cheap, renewable energy, particularly in the form of hydropower, is ruining traditional hunting grounds.

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The remote community of Rigolet on the northern coast of Labrador is downstream from Muskrat Falls, a dam on the Churchill River and an important drainage point for the province’s biggest watershed. The state-owned company Nalcor built the dam and has another — which would produce thrice the electricity — in the works. Most of the energy is exported to the U.S.

Related: Fish-friendly whirlpool turbine makes hydropower green again

But the Nunatsiavut government, which represents the area’s 2,700 Inuit people, said the dams disrupt ecosystems and expose residents to increased amounts of naturally occurring mercury. Flooding land unlocks mercury from the ground. Once it gets into the water, bacteria transforms it into methylmercury, a neurotoxin that gets into fish, waterbirds and seals as well as the people who eat these animals. The Inuit community living in Labrador already have higher methylmercury concentrations than non-Indigenous Canadians.

“When they poison the water, they poison us,” said David Wolfrey, Rigolet conservation officer.

These issues are all too common among First Nations people in Canada. A 2016 survey found that of 22 planned Canadian hydropower projects, all were within 60 miles of one or more Indigenous communities.

Many U.S. states have announced ambitious energy goals in the last few years, including Maine, Vermont, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and California. Lacking ways to generate this much energy locally, they’ve turned their gaze toward Canada. The northern neighbor of the U.S. is second only to China in hydropower production. Canada already has 900 large-scale dams which supply about 60% of Canada’s domestic energy needs, and the country has big plans for tripling output and damming the last wild rivers.

Nalcor and other dam-building companies have offered Indigenous populations money and support for local community initiatives. But residents are divided, and many will never be won over, such as Alex Saunders, an Inuit citizen who has been treated for methylmercury poisoning. “Think about what you’re buying here,” he said, as reported in The Guardian. “You’re buying the misery from the local people of northern Canada. That’s not a good thing.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Pixabay





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