Mississippi Riverwatchers respond to Enerdu environmental self assessment as deadline looms

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The deadline of January 31, 2013 to comment on the Environmental Self Assessment of the Enerdu project is fast approaching. If you would like to comment on the review or request referral to a tribunal, it is important to get those comments in to Enerdu via WESA and the Ministry of Natural Resources before that date. Enerdu has conducted a Self Assessment according to the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act. If you are not satisfied with the self assessment and your concerns have not been addressed, you may request a Part II order from the Ministry of Natural Resources. A Part II order means that a higher level of Environmental Assessment will be conducted in light of significant unresolved environmental concerns. A request for a Part II order must be in the office of the Minster by February 1, 2013 which means that it must be mailed or couriered before that date. The address for the Minister is

Minister of the Environment 77 Wellesley Street West
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
Toronto, ON, M7A 2T5
Requests

Here is how to make a Part II Order request and the considerations that apply.

The Enerdu self assessment, which was published on December 17, 2012,  is available at the  WESA website  http://www.wesa.ca/en/waterpower-project-updates/enerdu-generating-station-expansion-and-redevelopment-project-mississippi-river.html.

The Mississippi Riverwatchers, a local group of concerned citizens, environmental experts and naturalists,  filed their reply to and comments on the assessment in January 2013. It is available in full at www.riverwatchers.ca. The document is 44 pages in length.

Here is a summary of their principle concerns from their report

3 Pre-Existing Issues
3.1 Proof of Awareness
The Environmental Report (ER) fails to address pre-existing issues brought to the proponents’ attention in 2011 and 2012 by members of the public, riparian owners, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, the Mississippi RiverWatchers, and the Steering Committee and the Public Advisory Committee for the Mississippi River Water Management Plan. This failure to identify these issues and address them in the ER is a serious omission that makes much of the report invalid. In the sections that follow we attempt to put the issues and timeline in perspective in order to clarify our concerns over these issues.

3.2 Run-of-the-River
The facility where Enerdu operates originally started in the 1800s as a water powered flour mill. It was subsequently converted to a hydro generation station by the Dupuis family in the 1990s, and later purchased by the present owner. Through most of this early period, the facility operated as a true run-of-the-river plant. The term as applied to a hydro generation facility normally implies that it offers little real disruption to the normal flow of the river, has little or no storage of water, and is environmentally benign. A number of other more formal definitions are quoted below:

Websters Dictionary defines “run of river” as “operating on the flow of the river without modification by upstream storage.”

The World Bank definition: “developments where no or little impoundment takes place and the natural river flow is utilized with no seasonal regulation.”

According to Natural Resources Canada, “Run-of-river” refers to a mode of operation in which the hydro plant uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, as depicted in Figure 6.” Run of river” facilities are generally designed to take advantage of the natural flow, with no manipulations of flows. *

*(RETScreen International, Clean Energy Project Analysis: RETScreen Engineering and Cases Textbook, Natural Resources Canada, P. 11)

It is interesting to note that Enerdu also appears to agree with essence of these definitions since they state on page 18 of the ER:

“Run-of-River operations usually incorporate a weir and a headpond of limited storage capacity. As the name suggests, a run-of-river facility is generally designed to utilize the water of a river system at its naturally occurring rate of flow, with essentially no water storage. Water is conveyed from the site of the weir to the top of the penstock, a distance that may be mere meters or several kilometers depending on site conditions. Generally, all dams or weirs associated with hydroelectric developments tend to alter the natural flow regime of a river system by affecting when and how quickly water is released downstream. A true run-of-river system, however, has the least potential impact on a system as water is released or discharged at essentially the same volume and rate as it enters the system upstream. The primary area of potential impact is therefore the portion of river system between the dam intake and the powerhouse/ tailrace area.”

Unfortunately, current operations are not really run-of-the-river, and in spite of the many repetitions of the run-of-the-river mantra in the ER, future operations will not be true run-of-the river. Examples are scattered throughout the ER:

Page i – “The Enerdu GS will continue to operate as a run-of-river facility,….”
Page 3 – “The existing generating station operates as a “run-of-river” facility…”
Page 13 – “The proposed generating station would operate as a run-of-river
facility.”
Page 18 – “The Enerdu GS would be operated as a Run-of-River facility, in the
same manner as the existing generating station.”
Page 19 – “As a run-of-river development, the proposed facility’s operating
regime would not differ from the operating regime of the existing facility …..”
Page 84 – “As a run-of-river facility, the Enerdu GS project will generate
sustainable and renewable energy and, in combination with other green energy
projects, contribute to the improvement of air quality and public health in Ontario
by facilitating the shutdown of coal fired energy generation.”

In our opinion this over use of the term “run-of-the-river” is an attempt to “greenwash” the project. Enerdu has significantly altered the river environment with non-seasonal raised water levels and they are also using the 9 km length of Reach 18 as a storage reservoir.

3.3 Weir and Flashboards
Early photographs of the Almonte section of the river do show some evidence that some form of weir with possible flashboards was in use in the 1800s and early 1900s. The resolution of these images is low, and it is impossible to determine the exact height of these arrangements. It is believed that they were primarily to help direct the river flow towards the intake of the flour mill and the Thoburn mill rather than to increase the available head significantly. At some point, probably in the early 1900s, the existing concrete weir was built with the top at a level of 117.20 masl (meters above sea level). The records of the Mississippi River Power Corporation (MRPC) do contain a half dozen or so mentions of installing flashboards on the weir along with a couple of invoices for lumber and pipe for flashboards over the period from the 1950s to the 1980s. However, there is no record of the height of the boards at any time, nor a firm record that they were in place every year. The memories of various people suggest that the boards were absent or in poor repair most of the time, and that they were relatively low (6 to 8 inches) when present.

This changed in the summer of 2004 when 0.5 meter flashboards were installed on the concrete weir. The result was a significant rise in water level the full nine Km length of Reach 18 to Appleton. This rise was most evident in the Appleton wetland where summer water levels used to be below the base and top roots of the maple trees, but were now well up the trunks.

We note that page 49 of the ER states:

“The present flashboard system has been in place for seventeen (17) decades, originally installed to maintain upstream water levels, but the flashboards can no longer be easily (and safely) manipulated.”

This is not true, since the present flashboards and resulting water levels over that period of time would have killed all of the trees in the Appleton wetland and converted it to a cattail swamp. In fact, the wetland was thriving and filled with healthy maples until 2006.

3.4 Mississippi River Water Management Plan
In 2003 work was started on developing the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP), and the final document was approved by all concerned in 2006. Its purpose was to establish the operating rules for all of the dams on the Mississippi River system including both storage reservoirs and the five hydro power dams. In the MRWMP all of the power dams are classed as run-of-the-river operations. In the case of the Enerdu generating station, the plan noted that they were using 0.5 meter flashboards and that the “best management practices or target range” for water levels were 117.20 to 117.70 masl. In addition, if during periods of higher river flow the water level exceeded 118.00 masl, the MRWMP states that the flashboards were to be removed.

This appears to have been a case of grandfathering an existing practice, even though it had only existed since 2004. In addition, the effects that higher water levels would have on the Appleton wetland seems to have been overlooked during plan development.

3.5 Appleton Wetland Damage
The Appleton wetland is recognized as a Provincially Significant wetland and an ANSI, and is a soft maple swamp. That is, it is an area, populated by soft maple trees, that is subject to seasonal flooding. Soft maples are flood tolerant provided that water levels recede during the summer and fall growing season to the point where the base of the trunk and top roots can dry out and breathe. There are many examples of this type of wetland in the area in addition to the Appleton Wetland. Although the maples are flood tolerant, sustained flooding for a period of two years will result in dying trees. We note that the Appleton Wetland had been thriving for as long as anyone can remember with regular spring floods, and low water periods in summer and fall.

The seasonal water level pattern changed in 2004 when the water levels remained high through the normal summer and fall low water period, and the new pattern continues annually to the present time. In 2006, two years after the start of the summer high water levels, significant numbers of dying trees were noted in the wetland, and the quantity of dead trees continues to grow. The 2004 increase in water levels coincides with the introduction of extra high flashboards (0.5 meters) on the Enerdu weir, and there is little doubt that they are responsible for the damage to the Appleton Wetland. Unfortunately, Enerdu continues deny any responsibility for this and only repeats the litany that they are simply operating in compliance with the MRWMP.

3.6 Potential Amendment to MRWMP
Submissions to MNR about the wetland damage by Mississippi RiverWatchers and the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist (MVFN) led to a meeting of the Steering Committee of the MRWMP on Nov. 11, 20012 at which the issue of Reach 18 water levels was discussed and was referred to the Standing Advisory Committee. That committee met on Nov. 29, 2012 and RiverWatchers, MVFN and others made presentations on the Reach 18 water levels. The final recommendation of the committee was that an amendment to the MRWMP was in order with the objective of restoring water levels to those that prevailed prior to 2004. We note that Enerdu was present at both meetings as confirmed in the following quotation from page 43 of the ER:

“The proponent had previously attended a meeting with the Standing Advisory Committee on January 11, 2011, and later on November 29, 2012; a meeting was held with the Steering Committee on November 11, 2012. During these meetings, information on the proposed development was shared with the attendees.” The ER makes no acknowledgement of the real intent or results of that meeting; to correct a flaw in the MRWMP that would have a major effect on this ER.

3.7 Zone of Influence Conflict
Subsequent to the above recommendation of the Standing Advisory Committee, on Dec. 17, 2012 Enerdu released this ER. The zone of influence for this project has been defined in the ER as only the area in the immediate vicinity of the new power house (about 250 meters). The fact that water levels raised in 2004 with 0.5 meter flashboards are causing environmental damage to the Appleton Wetland are completely ignored, and the continuation of these higher water levels is justified in the ER on the basis that they will be doing exactly what is permitted in the MRWMP. Some relevant quotations from the ER follow.
From Final Environment Report:

Page 6 – “Through the course of the environmental assessment planning process, the proponent undertook the identification and evaluation of alternative conceptual designs, and ultimately identified a preferred project alternative. It is important to note that the resultant operating regime of the redeveloped Enerdu GS will honour the existing approved operation plan as documented in the Mississippi River Water Management Plan. Operations of the redeveloped facility would not affect water levels upstream or downstream of the zone of influence from those experienced under the existing operating regime; there will be no new or changed interactions between the Enerdu GS and any other control structures or waterpower facilities on the Mississippi River system.”

Page 18 – “The primary area of potential impact is therefore the portion of river system between the dam intake and the powerhouse/tailrace area.”

Page 44 – 45: “The MVCA noted some previously raised concerns by a member of the public regarding the flooding of the Appleton Wetland and the Enerdu operating regime. It was confirmed by the proponent that the facility has been operating in adherence to the MRWMP. The project team stated that the EA would address any changes that the redevelopment Enerdu GS would cause to the environment within the project zone of influence in order to meet the planning requirements. The wetland was 9 km upstream of the existing weir, well outside the geographic scope of the project.”

We are concerned that Enerdu is moving forward with expansion plans on the Mississippi River and the important recommendation from the Standing Advisory Committee to restore historical water levels to Reach 18 has been deliberately ignored by Enerdu in this ER. It is clear that the present hydroelectric operation is influencing water levels throughout Reach 18, 9 kilometers upstream of the dam, and that the upgrades covered in this ER will continue to do so. The “zone of influence” in the ER must be extended to all of Reach 18 and a proper assessment of all environmental issues in this reach, including the Appleton Wetland, must be completed before the project is approved.

We would also note that it is foolhardy to proceed with the design for the upgraded facility without knowing what the amended MRWMP for Reach 18 will establish for operational water levels. Without that information the economic return on the upgrade investment cannot be estimated, and some aspects of a premature implementation may need to be replaced. We sincerely urge Enerdu to withdraw the current EA and wait until the MRWMP amendment is settled.

3.8 Peaking Operation
Based on observations during the summer and fall of 2012 there is little doubt that Enerdu is presently using the full length of Reach 18 as a storage reservoir and operating in a peaking mode during periods when river flow is too low for continuous operation. When the water level above the weir approached their lower operational level, the generators were shut down until the river level rose nearly to the top of the flashboards and then generation resumed. The cycle repeated on a daily basis.

Clearly this is not currently a run-of-the-river operation, and the frequent cycling of river level can create problems. It is expected that the expanded facility proposed in the ER will continue this practice, but the higher flow rate through the generators will cause the river level fluctuations to be greater and more frequent.

3.9 Other Impacts on Reach 18
In addition to the major damage to the Appleton wetland, the existing Enerdu operation has negative effects on other users of the river, and the expansion proposed in the ER will continue the same effects.

3.9.1 Appleton Dam
Upstream, the effects of higher operating levels maintained by Enerdu were reported as measurably raising the tailrace levels at the Appleton Power Generating Station with a consequent reduction in net hydraulic head. The result is a reduction of electrical output. This reduction was reported by Mike Stockton, the former Appleton Generating station operator.

3.9.2 MRPC Dam
When operating in peaking mode, particularly during the summer low-flow periods, the Enerdu GS can cause problems for the MRPC in meeting its mandatory requirement to maintain a minimum compensation flow of 2.2 m3/s over their dam. Currently, when the Enerdu generators are shut down during low flow periods, the only water going to MRPC is the approximately 1 m3/s that leaks through the Enerdu flashboards. In the compensation flow compliance reports for 2010 and 2011 that are available on the MRPC web site, there are a number of such incidents reported. It is expected that the 2012 report when published will show similar incidents. It is not evident in the ER that any steps will be taken to mitigate this problem in the future.

3.9.3 Riparian Land Owners
Under common law, riparian rights include right of access to and from the river, right to the natural flow of the water, right to quality of water, right to use the water for domestic and other purposes, rights of accretion.

Riparian rights extend to every point along the frontage and over every part of the foreshore. Enerdu is proposing to continue to modify the height of the water with the use of the new weir, and will continue to maintain a high water level to create a holding pond. Enerdu proposes to increase the volume of water travelling past every property when they are generating power.

These constant fluctuations of water level will hasten erosion of the riparian shoreline, will make it difficult to use the docks within the immediate area, will restrict and limit the enjoyment of the riparian owners within the immediate area and upstream, will limit or reduce the enjoyment by swimmers, fishermen, canoeists, and boaters who are or may not be riparian owners.

Riparian owners’ concerns have not been addressed in the ER, nor has Enerdu responded to the owners on an individual basis. Many riparian owners were not notified of the Enerdu information meetings, and have yet to hear from Enerdu.

3.9.3.1 Consultation with Riparian owners:
ER Pages 5/6 – Overview of Environmental Assessment,
“Environmental effects may also include displacement, impairment, conflict or interference with existing land uses, approved land use plans, businesses or economic enterprises, recreational uses or activities, cultural pursuits, social conditions or economic attributes.”

This is a clear acknowledgement that there may be major negative impacts. The ER states that: “the project team took a consultative approach to address the proposed development and its potential effects”. Most of the directly affected property owners have raised major concerns not only about the public consultation process but also about the direct impact on their properties and activities.

Letters have been written to Enerdu about these concerns. The responses have been dismissive and in most cases persons were told to wait for the ER. The ER does not address the concerns of the property owners and we feel each owner should have their concerns addressed directly.

As of December 30 2012 the three adjacent upstream property owners and the Thoburn Mill condominium owners have had no such contact.

3.10 Concerns
The above paragraphs led to many concerns as listed below:

1) We would request the deletion of the run-of-the-river term from the ER, or preferably accompany its use with a clear commitment to true run-of-the-river operation, with protection of the Reach 18 environment and maintenance of community values as part of future operations.
2) Do you agree that the present flashboard system has not been in place for 17 decades but was an addition in 2004? If you disagree can you provide evidence to support your claim?
3) Do you agree that the higher water levels resulting from the 0.5 meter flashboards have damaged the Appleton wetland?
4) Do you agree that the MRWMP should be amended to return operational water levels on Reach 18 to historical values?
5) Do you agree that the ER should be deferred until such time as the potential MRWMP amendment is completed and then a new ER that complies with it should be prepared?
6) Do you agree that the “zone of influence” in the ER must be extended to all of Reach 18 and a proper assessment of all environmental issues in this reach, including the Appleton Wetland, must be completed?
7) Do you agree to cease peaking operation and change to a true run-of-the-river operation?
8) Will you operate in a manner that reduces impacts on the Appleton and MRPC generating stations?
9) Do you plan to compensate the effected property owners for both short term and permanent impacts?
10) “Environmental effects may also include displacement, impairment, conflict or interference with existing land uses…” is a catch all statement which seems to in tend to absolve Enerdu from any number of impacts. Can you be specific as to the recreational uses and activities impacted, and what remedies will be taken?