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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Food for Thought

Flooding Farmland:
Site C Dam and BC Food Security

What is Site C?

Site C is a hydroelectric dam under construction on the Peace River in northeast BC. If it is built, Site C will flood more than 9,000 acres of farmland in the Peace River Valley. It will also drown Treaty 8 land, including First Nation cultural sites. 

The BC Liberal Government began the Site C Dam project, and the NDP Government is completing it. Many people argue that the dam should not be built.  According to the dam critics, BC doesn’t need the energy, and if we want more energy in the future, wind power would be cheaper and “greener.” Critics are also concerned about flooding First Nation land, and the loss of biodiversity and farmland. Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations are challenging the dam construction in court.

The government estimates that the total cost will be 10.7 billion dollars. After it is built, the dam will employ 160 people. The dam is supposed to be finished in 2024.  

Wendy Holm is a Professional Agrologist (agricultural economist). She is a pastpresident of the B.C. Institute of Agrologists, and she was a former director of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, B.C. 

Holm has studied the impact that Site C Dam will have on food security in BC. She is an author and the editor of a recently published book, Damming the Peace: The Hidden Costs of the Site C Dam

Burnaby Food First recently interviewed Holm about Site C and food security.

BFF:    Can you tell us about the farmland that will be flooded if Site C is built?

Holm: To understand what the loss of these more than 9,000 acres of farmland means, it’s important to know that the soil in the Peace River Valley is some of the richest in all of Canada. And because the Peace is in northern BC, the longer hours of sun during the growing season mean not only can the Peace River Valley produce the same range of crops as the Fraser Valley, but with higher yields. 

BFF:   The joint panel set up by the government to review Site C dam said that the loss of farmland was not significant. What is your response to that?

Holm: The Peace River Valley is nature’s greengrocer. BC imports over half of the vegetables we could grow here. We need all the land we have, and Site C is the only area for significant fresh veggie expansion in the province. 

BFF:   British Columbia’s population grows every year. How many people would this land feed if it were farmed instead of flooded?

Holm:  If the Peace River Valley is planted to grow fresh vegetables, it could meet the nutritional needs of well over one million people a year -- every year. 
Today, BC depends on California and Mexico for over half the veggies we could produce here. The Peace River Valley is closer to the Lower Mainland and much closer to northern communities. 

BFF:   The Joint Panel Review Report suggested that flooding the farmland would have an impact on food security only if the future holds a radical end to current cheap food prices and a breakdown in interregional and international trade.” What is your response to that?

Holm:  There have been years of drought followed by fires and floods in California, and climate scientists are predicting more extreme weather conditions in coming years. At the moment, trade relations with the United States are a problem. We can’t count on cheap imported food in the future. Dramatic increases in food prices for fruits and vegetables is already predicted by reputable analysts. The Peace River Valley is important to BC’s food security and resilience.

BFF:    If the Site C Dam is built and the valley flooded, what happens in the future? Can we reclaim the land to grow food if it is really needed? 

Holm:  No. If the dam is built, even if it is decommissioned later, it will have an impact for hundreds of years. The agricultural resource lost through flooding will have a direct, long-term, negative impact on human food security. 

BFF:    Tell us about your book, Damming the Peace. Why did you decide to include articles by so many different experts?

Holm:  Because there are many impacts of this dam, and we needed credible experts on each area to present the facts in a clear, readable way.
           The book includes experts on energy, dams, Canadian climate change policy, trauma and indigenous resistance, biodiversity, agriculture and food policy, human health, law and other topics relevant to this issue such as the connection between Site C and continental water sharing.

BFF:    How would the Site C dam affect people living in Burnaby?

Holm: This is everyone’s fight. If government made a bad decision based on good information, we would simply have a disagreement that we could argue about next time at the polls. But government made a bad decision based on bad information and is now refusing to reconsider despite huge public costs. 
           This flies in the face of democracy.

Damming the Peace: the Hidden Costs of the Site C Dam is available in bookstores and from the publisher’s website, lorimer.ca.
Wendy Holm will be touring the province this summer to speak about Site C Dam. For details of the tour, click here.

Article written by Joyce Cameron, Burnaby Food First member

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