How Renewable is Mega Dam Electricity?

Green, Green Water

Directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Jamie Lee (2007)

Film Review

This documentary is about the ongoing devastation northern Manitoba Cree communities are experiencing thanks to the flooding of their territory by Manitoba Hydro to sell cheap so-called “renewable” electricity* in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Unlike most mega dams, those constructed by Manitoba Hydro dams aren’t sited in preexisting gorges or canyons. Instead the provincial owned power company has transformed a vast swathe of North America’s boreal forest.** In the process they destroyed a delicate ecoystem that supported birds, water fowl and indigenous people for tens of thousands of years.

As water levels rose approximately 25 feet, the homes of many indigenous people were destroyed, along with the native fish and wildlife they relied on for food.

Manitoba Hydro “bought” the right to flood their homes and land through a series of multimillion dollar ($20 – 78 million) deals they signed with individual Cree communities. Only the Pimicikamak Cree Nation refused to sign.

Predictably the jobs and economic prosperity the provincial government promised never materialized. In 1967 average annual income in Northern Manitoba was $48,436 and in 2001 it was $24,200. As employment rates dropped from 90% to 10%, previously alcohol-free communities were plagued by an epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse – and suicide.

At the time of filming, indigenous communities were split over continuing pressure to agree to expansion of Manitoba Hydro’s river diversion and dam building projects. Some believe indigenous people will never enjoy the “modern conveniences” of urban life without pursuing this type of economic development. Others, calling themselves Justice Seekers, believe they have an obligation to protect the environment to justify their claim to indigenous rights. 


*Many climate advocates question mega dams as a “renewable” power source, owing to their negative impact on numerous animal and fish species, as well as human displacement and methane emissions plants and animals killed by flooding. See Damnation: The Problem with Hydropower

**Canadian boreal forests are commonly referred to as North America’s lungs.

The film can be viewed free on Beamafilm

 

 

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