Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC), an environmental watchdog set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has complained to CEC that Canada, a member of NAFTA, has been negligent in enforcing the Fisheries Act against BC Hydro. The NAFTA probe comes a year after environ mental groups complained to CEC that BC Hydro, a utility owned by the provincial government of British Columbia, is killing fish and affecting spawning by its untimely water releases.

The salmon runs in BC rivers, that were plentiful some time back, have drastically declined in recent years, devastating the C$500M salmon fishery on Canada’s west coast. Some salmon, such as the Coho, are already classified as endangered. This year the Canadian federal government has placed strict limits on salmon fishing in an effort to save the declining salmon population.

Conservation groups led by the Sierra Club have pointed at BC’s dams, as well as the mining and logging industries, as the major culprits responsible for the loss of the salmon.

Environmentalists claim that water releases by BC Hydro from its 33 dams do not always coincide with the seasonal needs of the fish, and destroy spawn beds. BC Hydro dams are also blamed for hindering the migration of anadromous fish, for creating changes in water temperatures and river channel flow, as well as for increasing mortality of juvenile salmon due to hydro turbines.

BC Hydro argues that the utility is trying to maintain a balance between water for power and the needs of fish. It states that when some of the licences for the dams were issued, downstream flow releases for fish were never a condition. However, the utility has entered into agreements with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and the provincial Ministry of Environment to ensure water flows in the river are sufficient to protect fish and habitat.

Last year BC Hydro filed legal action challenging DFO’s authority to regulate the water releases through the Daisy dam on the Cheakamus river, to improve fish and spawning habitat (see IWP&DC, August 1997, p4). The legal action was prompted when DFO ordered BC Hydro to increase the flows downstream of the 155MW Cheakamus Plant. The utility argued that DFOs order is contrary to its licence to operate the power plant.

BC Hydro claims that it spends about C$5M annually on fish related works. The utility, encouraged by environmentalists, has installed fish screens at its 20MW Puntledge power plant at a cost of C$4.3M, to increase the survival rate of migrating juvenile salmon.

The utility points out that in 1996-7 it made operational adjustments at the Columbia river dams to minimise impacts on white fish and trout spawning, revised flows at Campbell river to benefit salmon spawning, as well as installing a new spill gate control system at Daisy dam to reduce potential flow rate change impacts on fish.