Archived - The Government of Canada Response to the Environmental Assessment Joint Review Panel Report of the Proposed Lac Kénogami Watershed Flood Control Project

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Circumstances

Following heavy rain in 1996 that caused exceptional floods in the Saguenay region, the government of Quebec established a scientific and technical commission on dams to provide recommendations aimed at improving dam management in Quebec.

In June 2000, following the recommendations of this commission, the government of Quebec issued a decree (G. O. Q. no. 704-2000), which authorized the Ministère de Ressources naturelles du Québec to engage Hydro-Quebec: (i) to undertake technico-economic and environmental studies, (ii) to design-development for the infrastructure to provide greater flood control of the lac Kénogami watershed, and (iii) to carry out the exploratory work, the studies, the scientific surveys and all other activities preceding the construction of the Lac Kénogami Watershed Flood Control Project (Project).

Project

The Project was designed to ensure that works on lac Kénogami comply with the new Loi sur la sécurité des barrages; to prevent exceeding the major flood levels on the Chicoutimi River and the rivière aux Sables, for a flood similar in scale to the one of July 1996; and to keep the water level of lac Kénogami stable during the summer in order to maintain public safety of the shoreline residents.

In the context of the environmental assessment, the project includes four main components to ensure public safety:

  • The construction and operation of a water retention reservoir on the Pikauba river, 30.2 km upstream of lac Kénogami;
  • The construction of a sill in the rivière aux Sables;
  • The consolidation and enhancement of existing dikes on the periphery of the lac Kénogami;
  • The implementation of an upgraded flood forecasting system.

The project also involves the construction and operation and, if necessary, the closure and the rehabilitation of structures and related activities that would be necessary for the construction and implementation of the main components of the Project.

The Environmental Assessment Process

On April 16, 2003, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) submitted the project to the Minister of the Environment of Canada with the recommendation for referral to a review Panel. DFO is the lead responsible authority (RA) for this Project, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), resulting from its regulatory role to authorize the destruction of fish habitat pursuant to section 35(2) of the Fisheries Act. Transport Canada is also a RA as a result of an approval for the construction of a dam pursuant to section 5(1) of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Minister of the Environment of Canada referred the environmental assessment of the project to a review panel pursuant to 29(1)(a) of the CEAA.

The Ministers of the Environment of Quebec and of Canada concluded an agreement on July 28, 2003 to establish a Joint Review Panel (joint review Panel) to conduct the public review of the Project, within the framework of the public-hearing procedures of the Bureau des audiences publiques sur l’environnement. The Ministers of the Environment of Quebec and of Canada agreed that public hearings would be conducted in a manner which respected the requirements of la Loi sur la qualité de l’environnement du Québec and the CEAA.

 The Joint Review Panel held the first phase of public hearings on the Project beginning August 5, 2003 in the town of Saquenay. An invitation was extended to interested parties to provide their views. The second phase was devoted to the presentation of the briefs prepared by individuals, municipalities, organizations and groups wishing to offer their views to the joint review panel, as well as verbal suggestions and opinions from the public. In addition, the proponent had the opportunity to provide additional information during the second public session.

The Joint Review Panel Report

Pursuant to section 37(1.1) of the CEAA, DFO and TC as RAs shall take into consideration the Panel Report and, with the approval of Governor in Council, respond to the Joint Review Panel's report. This response fulfils this requirement.

On October 23, 2003, the Joint Review Panel submitted its report to the Ministers of the Environment of Quebec and Canada on the installation and operation of flood control works, proposed by the Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec.

The Joint Review Panel makes 12 recommendations and concludes that the recommended Project satisfies the main objective of ensuring public safety. The Panel’s main recommendation is that the Pikauba Reservoir be operated at a maximum level of 412.7 m, 5 m less than the level proposed by the proponent. This measure would ensure the protection of the highly valued ecology and biodiversity of the Pikauba Valley and reduce mercury release into the aquatic environment.

Since the release of the Joint Review Panel’s report, the Government of Quebec has been re-examining whether and how all aspects of the Project will go forward. In July 2006, the Government of Quebec indicated its intention to go ahead with the work proposed for the rivière aux Sables and the redevelopment of the dikes on lac Kénogami.

Given that only work on rivière aux Sables and the dikes on lac Kénogami is planned to go forward at this time, the Government of Canada is deferring its consideration of the Joint Review Panel’s recommendations relating to the other aspects of the Project and will respond only those recommendations relating to the rivière aux Sables and the dikes on lac Kénogami. In the even that the Government of Quebec decides to go forward with the other aspects of the Project, the Government of Canada will determine whether approvals are required pursuant to the Fisheries Act or the Navigable Waters Protection Act based on the description of the proposal submitted at that time.

Public Participation

During the course of the public hearings 29 briefs were submitted to the Joint Review Panel expressing views and opinions from various interest groups, individuals, municipalities and business interests.

The Government Response

The response indicates areas of federal, provincial and joint federal-provincial jurisdiction. A federal government response is provided for recommendations as they relate to the excavation in the rivière aux Sables and the dikes on lac Kénogami, as proposed. For those recommendations of provincial jurisdiction, the response indicates that the federal government supports the intent of the recommendations.

Three options were reviewed for how to respond to the Joint Review Panel recommendations given that only a portion of the Project is expected to be built in the short-term. Option 3 is the recommended option, which would support 8 of the 12 recommendations of the Joint Review Panel with regard to the works proposed for the rivières aux Sables and the dikes on lac Kénogami. The Government of Canada would defer consideration of the 4 recommendations on the construction and operation of the Pikauba reservoir until such time as the Government of Quebec determines how it would proceed.

The Joint Review Panel expresses the opinion that the Project is not expected to have a serious adverse effect on navigation on rivières aux Sables, however it considers the maintenance of water conditions on the river suitable for the instruction of canoers as desirable. The Joint Review Panel views the Project as offering the opportunity to optimize navigation and invites the provincial government to work with the local kayak club to recreate active summer water conditions for kayakers.

The Joint Review Panel indicates that the Project is under provincial jurisdiction and that the

repercussions should be followed-up by each provincial government department according to its expertise. A consultation committee, to include Aboriginal people must have the opportunity to participate in the follow-up. Information gathered during the follow-up program should be accessible to Aboriginal People and the public.

The proponent submitted a cumulative effects assessment of the Project on the natural environment. The Joint Review Panel concluded that with its recommendations there would be no significant cumulative effects on the fish, wetlands and navigation. Similarly, the joint review Panel also concluded that the renewable resources affected by the Project would meet present and future needs with the mitigations measures it proposed in the report.

The government of Canada acknowledges the conclusions of the Joint Review Panel and agrees with the joint review Panel’s recommendations concerning the work proposed for the rivière aux Sables and the redevelopment of the dikes on lac Kénogami. These components of the Project will help ensure public safety in the region affected by flooding.

Regulatory Process

Following the approval of this response, DFO and TC will proceed through the regulatory process pursuant to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Should the proponent modify the recommended Project or introduce a new project, the federal government will review these changes as they pertain to federal jurisdiction.

Recommendation 1

The Panel recommends that a truck traffic management plan be developed in collaboration with the municipalities affected in order to minimize to an acceptable level the adverse effects on onshore residents of the truck traffic necessary to carry out the works, notably those in the Rivière aux Sables.

Response

The Government of Canada agrees with intent of the Panel recommendation noting that truck traffic management is under the jurisdiction of the province.

Recommendation 2

The Panel recommends that the gates of the Bésy Falls dam be verified by the Centre d’expertise hydrique du Québec to ensure their capacity to discharge inflows under all circumstances, and that they do not risk being jammed by large debris. If this is the case, alteration to the dam must be required by virtue of the Loi sur la sécurité des barrages.

Response

The Government of Canada supports the intent of the Panel recommendation and notes that the verification of the gates of the Bésy Falls Dam is under the jurisdiction of the province. If alteration to the Bésy Falls Dam is necessary an application to Transport Canada under the Navigable Waters Protection Act would be required.

Recommendation 3

The Panel recommends that local methods be established to enable the timely verification of Lake Kenogami’s discharge control works, in the event that may lead to a flood warning.

Response

The Government of Canada supports the Panel recommendation. The federal government through Transport Canada will work with provincial officials on downstream navigability and safety aspects of discharge control works and flood warning system. The approval issued by Transport Canada pursuant to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will stipulate conditions consistent with this recommendation. 

Recommendation 4

The Panel recommends that the ecological minimum flow downstream from the Pikauba dam be maintained during the reservoir filling periods. This flow should be determined in collaboration with responsible authorities, taking into account the biological requirements of fish and government policies.

Response

The Government of Quebec is studying flow management regimes in the event that the Pikauba reservoir is created. The Government of Canada will defer consideration of this recommendation until Quebec determines how it will proceed with the construction and operation of the Pikauba reservoir.

Recommendation 5

The Panel recommends that the reference state for mercury contamination be established in relation to the species most likely to be consumed in the Pikauba River sector and at its mouth, where rainbow smelt winter fishing is practised.

Response

The Government of Canada will defer consideration of this recommendation until Quebec determines how it will proceed with the construction and operation of the Pikauba reservoir.

Recommendation 6

The Panel recommends that the effectiveness of the mercury information campaign be monitored in collaboration with community representatives. The Panel believes that an effective communication program is key to prevention.

Response

The Government of Canada agrees with the intent of the Panel recommendation and encourages the Ministère de la Santé et des services sociaux to work with the proponent in protecting human health with respect to the intake of methyl mercury from the consumption of drinking water, fish, and wildlife from the lac Kénogami watershed.

Recommendation 7

The Panel recommends that any significant change in the management of Lake Kenogami be subject to public consultation to show transparency in the management of the watershed.

Response

The Government of Canada supports the Panel recommendation. Transport Canada will co-operate with provincial officials as it pertains to the federal government’s mandate to maintain navigability and security on Canada’s waterways. The approval issued pursuant to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will stipulate conditions for rivière aux Sables and the dikes surrounding Lac Kenogami to address downstream navigation and the safety concerns of the discharge control works and the flood warning system.

Recommendation 8

The Panel recommends that, to minimize property damage, the Government of Quebec, concurrently with the implementation of the project, map the flood levels around Lake Kenogami and establish, in collaboration with the MRC of Fjord-du-Saguenay and the affected municipalities, rules for the construction of infrastructure and buildings around Lake Kenogami by setting a minimum level for all construction.

Response

The Government of Canada agrees with the intent of the Panel recommendation and notes that the establishment of rules and standards pertaining to construction in areas susceptible to flooding is the responsibility of the provincial government, the MRC of Fjord-du-Saguenay and the affected municipalities.

Recommendation 9

The Panel recommends that the stabilization methods for Lake Kenogami established in order no. 704-2000 be relaxed to reduce the adverse environmental effects, while allowing to reconcile the various uses around the lake as well as downstream.

Response

The Government of Canada agrees with the intent of the Panel recommendation. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada will co-operate with provincial officials on the environmental issues related to water levels. The Government of Canada notes that the provincial government will be responsible for managing water levels to ensure public security and to reduce the adverse environmental effects of the Project.

Recommendation 10

The Panel recommends that, given the scope of the work on the rivière aux Sables, a water quality monitoring program be designed in collaboration with the users who have water intakes in order to ensure that their efficiency is maintained. Before the work begins, a contingency plan should be developed in partnership with the users.

Response

The Government of Canada agrees with the intent of the Panel recommendation. Federal departments will co-operate with provincial officials on the technical and environmental issues regarding water quality that fall under federal purview. The Government of Canada notes that the principal responsibility for drinking water quality is with the provincial government.

Recommendation 11

The Panel recommends that the Pikauba reservoir be managed at a maximum normal level of approximately 412.7 m to minimize the loss of wetlands and fish habitat. Furthermore, at this level, the primary objective of ensuring public safety would be respected. Summer flood storage would be even greater.

Response

The Government of Canada will defer consideration of this recommendation until Quebec determines how it will proceed with the construction and operation of the Pikauba reservoir.

Recommendation 12

The Panel recommends that, according to the principle of no net loss of wetlands and fish habitat, the Quebec Ministre des ressources naturelles, de la faune et des Parcs reach an agreement with the government officials concerned regarding the measures required to compensate residual losses of wetlands and fish habitat.

Response

The Government of Canada will defer consideration of this recommendation until Quebec determines how it will proceed with the construction and operation of the Pikauba reservoir.

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