Mike Robertson captured this aerial shot of the Cheslatta gravesite. This current flood has not exposed any human remains yet.

Mike Robertson captured this aerial shot of the Cheslatta gravesite. This current flood has not exposed any human remains yet.

Still no solution for flooding at Cheslatta Lake system

“Rio Tinto Alcan is the one to blame,” says Mike Robertson.

In the story ‘Cheslatta looking to stop the floods’ published in the Lakes District News’ July 9, 2014, Mike Robertson, Senior Policy Advisor for Cheslatta Carrier Nation, said he was confident that a resolution regarding the annual flooding at the Cheslatta Lake waterway system would occur before the end of summer. It’s now been almost a year and the situation still hasn’t been resolved.

“We are definitely getting frustrated,” said Robertson. “Something better happen soon.”

The annual flooding of the Cheslatta system is due to the annual summer temperature management spills that are necessary to maintain a safe water temperature in the Nechako River for the migrating salmon.

The Kenny Dam was built in 1952 to create a water reservoir to supply downstream hydro-electric turbine to power the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelters. More than 120,000 acres of land were flooded, creating the Nechako reservoir. Since the Kenny Dam was built and the Skins Lake spillway was constructed to release water from the Nechako reservoir into the upper Nechako River, high water flows and massive erosion have caused extensive flooding of the Cheslatta Lake waterway system.

The constant influx and retreat of water levels means that buried graves are occasionally exposed. During the original flooding of the lake and river system, coffins were seen floating on Cheslatta Lake and bones washed up along the shoreline. Since then, Cheslatta gravesites have frequently been disturbed by the regular flooding of the Cheslatta system.

Robertson said there are no human remains floating ashore this year. However, he said he won’t know the full extent of the damage until the water goes down.

“This current flood has not exposed any human remains… yet,” said Robertson. “We must wait until the water goes down in order to assess the damage.”

Meanwhile, the water at the Cheslatta Lake continues to rise. According to Robertson, the spills that keep flooding the Cheslatta system release 500 cubic metres per second, which equates to 396,000,000 gallons of water per hour.

Last March, Cheslatta Carrier Nation signed a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. government that confirmed a framework that includes options to alleviate the flooding in the Cheslatta system.

“Overall, while we are making progress, we are frustrated over the pace of discussions,” he said.

According to Robertson, mining company Rio Tinto Alcan is the one to blame for this annual flooding. Rio Tinto Alcan is responsible for controlling the release of water from its Kenney Dam reservoir through the Skins Lake spillway. Robertson said Rio Tinto Alcan has mismanaged the Kenney Dam reservoir.

“They [Rio Tinto Alcan] are managing the water, and definitely there were mistakes made,” he said.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation is proposing the construction of a cold water release facility at the Kenny Dam. The proposed facility would eliminate the need to flood the Cheslatta Lake system.

Robertson said that in order for the proposed Kenny Dam water release facility to become a reality, Rio Tinto Alcan has to come on board.

“Nothing is going to happen unless Rio Tinto Canada is a part of it,” he said.

Kevin Dobbin, Spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan, agreed that a water release facility at Kenny Dam would have impacts to water flow on the Cheslatta system.

“A facility at Kenney Dam has been looked at over the years and continues to be a potential option,” he said.

“Rio Tinto Alcan is just completing a new smelter which brings stability and secures our operations for another 60 years.  Discussions, agreements, environmental considerations all take time. Rio Tinto Alcan works with all stakeholders on any potential options effecting or impacting the Nechako reservoir and flows into the Nechako River. These options are complex, and the Nechako systems are geographically very long and therefore there are many stakeholders to work with along the whole system,” Dobbin continued.

“There are many options that impact the reservoir and river system differently and in turn impact stakeholders in different ways. So finding the right solutions can be challenging. Rio Tinto Alcan works closely with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, District of Vanderhoof, Nechako Bulkley Valley Regional District, Southside residents and others, and we will continue to do that in order to explore possible options.  We remain committed to these discussions and look forward to working with our stakeholders,” Dobbin added.

A meeting between Rio Tinto Alcan and Cheslatta Carrier Nation is scheduled for June 22.