Hydro facing stormy waters

January 4, 2011

Opposition to lake regulation licence looms

The Grand Beach boardwalk was destroyed in October by huge waves created by a ‘weather bomb’ of rain and high wind in Lake Winnipeg’s south basin.

Manitoba Hydro’s role in regulating the water level on Lake Winnipeg will be put under the microscope at public hearings this year when it applies for a permanent licence to keep the lake a reservoir for its northern power dams, Premier Greg Selinger says.

Hydro will officially ask the province for a permanent licence so it has a steady flow of water to generate electricity during the winter months and for export to other provinces and the United States.

Selinger said that part of that licensing process will include public hearings.

“I think that will provide an opportunity for anybody that has concerns to be able to put their comments in, and their research, and to be able to indicate what their concerns are with Lake Winnipeg regulation,” Selinger said.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal concerns out there and there needs to be an impartial forum for those to be heard and evaluated and to be understood.”

The hearings, to be held likely in the fall, will be the first time in almost 40 years that Manitoba Hydro will directly confront a public skeptical that its artificial control of the lake does not contribute to shoreline destruction. Some also say Hydro’s regulation of the lake’s flow contributes to the growth of toxic blue-green algae.

The debate over Hydro’s role on the lake has continued for several years and took centre stage in late October when a cyclone-like storm blew up huge waves in the south basin that in some spots destroyed an already fragile shoreline and caused flooding in some low-lying areas.

Critics charge that if Hydro were forced to lower the lake by two feet more—713 feet above sea level as opposed to 715 now—the waves would not have been so big and the destruction not so widespread. Many municipalities declared states of emergency to deal with flooding. The province has already said it will put a disaster financial assistance program in place to help permanent residents and local governments repair the storm’s damage. An early damage estimate is about $7 million.

Victoria Beach Coun. Kathy McKibbin said at a council meeting late last month that Hydro has a lot of explaining to do. Some Victoria Beach cottagers are now planning massive shoreline stabilization projects to save their cottages.

“If the whole south basin doesn’t appear at these hearings, I’d be quite disappointed,” McKibbin said.

In the lead-up to the permanent licensing process, Hydro has taken a more active role in explaining its role on the lake on its website, Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said.

“There continues to be a lot of misconceptions on behalf of cottage owners,” Schneider said. “We understand their concerns about damage to their property. There is a perception that we’ve been keeping the lake high, and we want to provide them with specifics and facts that tell our story in terms of how we’ve been operating and the fact that we haven’t been the cause of the damage to their property.”

Schneider said anyone with a concern about the lake’s regulation can submit a question to Hydro.

“Once we’ve had an opportunity to talk to people, they quite frequently will go away with a different opinion,” Schneider said. “We can answer either privately or put it on the web.”

Hydro didn’t begin to regulate the level of the lake until the late 1970s when the Jenpeg generating station was finished. Schneider said with Hydro’s regulation of the lake, its level year-to-year has been more stable, and overland flooding, caused when the lake overflows, is now something of the past.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2011 A4

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