Nunavik residents worried about summer dam spill
“What happened in 1984 is still very emotional"
Kuujjuaq residents have questions about what a controlled dam spill could mean for wildlife and harvesters along the Koksoak River.
Hydro-Québec just announced a proposal to do a controlled release of water this summer from its Caniapiscau reservoir, which is nearing full capacity.
The surplus water would be released into the Caniapiscau River, a tributary of the Koksoak River, which skirts the community of Kuujjuaq and flows through to Ungava Bay.
The reservoir, the largest in Hydro-Québec’s James Bay hydroelectric project, is currently about 88 per cent full, said spokesperson Francis Labbé.
That’s due to higher than normal precipitation levels in Quebec in recent years, he said, while energy consumption across the province is lower.
“We have to make sure we don’t fill to capacity,” Labbé said. “We will possibly have to release water at both ends.”
Otherwise, Labbé said, the public utility can’t control where excess water will flow.
Under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Hydro-Québec is required to give 30 days’ notice before a controlled release or “preventative spillage.”
The plan, which is not yet official, Labbé said, is to release an additional 750 cubic metres of water per second from early June to late August—roughly 15 per cent more than what flows from the spill-way at any given time.
At a release rate of 750 cubic metres per second, Hydro-Québec estimates the water levels could rise up to 10 cm around Kuujjuaq and 30 cm in the Koksoak estuary.
Hydro-Québec officials presented the plan to a number of Kuujjuaq organizations April 14—in English, with Inuktitut translation.
Still, Kuujjuaq Mayor Tunu Napartuk called the information session “very technical” and difficult for the average resident to understand.
Nunavimmiut haven’t forgotten a controlled release from the same reservoir in the summer of 1984, when the power corporation released an additional 1,500 cubic metres per second over the summer months.
In October of that same year, an estimated 9,000 caribou drowned during their fall migration in the region, just southwest of Kuujjuaq.
Hydro-Québec denied that the controlled water release was the issue, saying the tributaries in the region were already swollen from heavy rains that year.
But Inuit Nunavik think otherwise.
“What happened in 1984 is still very emotional—the memories are still very strong,” Napartuk said.
“They have to be careful about how much water is put out,” he said. “As the population of Kuujjuaq grows and more people rely on the river as a source of food, there are more and more cabins along the Koksoak. And the effect of the tides along the river is very strong.”
Napartuk said he understands the release is an important preventative measure, but he said Kuujjuaq residents first need more details about Hydro-Québec’s plans.
Hydro-Québec will be responsive to Nunavik’s concerns, Labbé said. The power corporation is willing to shut down the water release during the high tide period, he said.
Hydro-Québec will also invite elders and leaders from the community on its next helicopter ride over the reservoir, so they can get an aerial view of the region and weigh in with their input.
The power corporation said it’s in contact with local officials on how to get the word out before any plan in finalized.