The American Connection

David Orchard and Marjaleena Repo

The government of Saskatchewan has announced that it is proceeding full steam ahead with Rafferty-Alameda dams. This just makes public what has been going on at the dam site all year. Although the project was halted by federal court last January until an full environmental assessment could be done, the federal government was paying the Saskatchewan government one million dollars a month not to proceed with construction beyond what was necessary for safety. Still the work went on till finally October 12th the environmental panel quit in protest.

Now Premier Grunt Devine has ordered the bulldozers and earth movers to work around the clock. His government is attacking the federal Department of the Environment, calling them "simple and incompetent bureaucrats" with "an overwhelming bias against Western Canada". It is "Toronto environmentalists interfering with the people of Saskatchewan", he charges. The latest is that the federal government has "no right" to stop Saskatchewan from building these dams. "Enough is enough", Devine says.

Now the U.S. has weighed in against the federal Department of the Environment. A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared on October 19th that whether or not a federal environmental review finds the project acceptable, Saskatchewan must build it exactly as planned. The U.S., he pointed out, has already paid Saskatchewan $17 million dollars (U.S.) out of the $50 million it plans to pay the province.

What is going on? Why is the U.S. paying $50 million to a province for dams which the Saskatchewan government has told us are for irrigation and recreation of the Saskatchewan people? Why has the environmental and constitutional law of Canada suddenly become meaningless to the premier of Saskatchewan? How is it that the federal government suddenly has "no rights" over an international river flowing through Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Manitoba?

Opponents of the dams have criticized the destruction of two unique valleys, the flooding of an Indian artifact site and the beautiful Dr. Mainprize Park, not to mention farm and ranch land of dozens of residents.The area has birds in numbers not often seen on the prairies anymore, and wildlife, from deer to painted turtles, makes these beautiful valleys their home.

There is, however, a central issue that has not received anywhere near the attention it deserves. The Souris (French for "mouse") river is a tiny stream that starts from spring runoff near Weyburn, flows south into North Dakota and then back up into Manitoba. It has no mountain fed source of water; it relies solely on spring snow melt. The flow volume most of the year is barely a trickle. Yet this creek is to be the foundation of a billion-dollar megaproject. The burning question is: where is the water to fill the dam going to come from?

The most obvious place is the Qu'Appelle River, a short one hundred miles away which is linked to the south Saskatchewan River system, a secure mountain fed system. By looking at a map it becomes clear how simple such a diversion would be: a short pipeline or a channel less than 100 miles long through easily moved dirt from the Qu'Appelle to the Souris. With the Gardiner Dam and Lake Diefenbaker to stabilize flows much of the infrastructure already exists for this inter-basin water transfer. Maps of long standing water diversion plans the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA), a huge U.S. plan to take Canadian water south to the U.S., and the Grand Canal project, a massive scheme to divert twenty Canadian rivers south both show a crucial dam at the exact location of the Rafferty.

Once the connection is made to the Qu'Appelle, a secure source of water from the Rocky Mountains is available to make the Rafferty dam viable and, also, more significantly, to enable the export of Canadian fresh water down into the United States. On the U.S. side the water would simply be pumped from the Souris over into the Missouri to move south to states long hungry for Canadian water.

We don't believe the Rafferty Dam is being built for irrigation. The experience of Saskatchewan farmers with irrigation provided by the Gardiner Dam -- salinity, falling land prices, yields below expectations -- show that dryland irrigation creates more problems than it solves.

The Rafferty Dam is not needed to cool the Shand power plant as is claimed -- it can be air cooled. In fact, the need for the Shand power plant and for extra power capacity has not been proven. Saskatchewan could buy available Manitoba power cheaper and without destroying more river valleys. Engineers, when confronted at the site about why the dam is being built 4-5 times bigger than anything required to cool the power plant, would say the dam will have "other uses".

As for recreation, fluctuations in the reservoir admitted by the proponents to be up to nine metres will create massive mud flats severely restricting any kind of recreational activity, except perhaps, in the words of one observer, mud wrestling.

Proponents say the dam will provide flood control for Minot, N.D. For Saskatchewan residents to watch and pay for the destruction of their valleys to provide rarely needed flood protection for a foreign country -- the richest in the world with ample resources and expertise to solve its own flooding problems -- gives new meaning to the word "colonial".

In 1984, Senator Quentin Burdick of North Dakota urged the U.S. to consider developing flood control near Estevan and Alameda saying it would only cost the United States half as much as to build its own dam and North Dakota would not lose any agricultural land or have any environmental problems. Another aggressive American proponent of the Rafferty dam, Orlin Bill Hansen, an elected member of the North Dakota House of Representatives, testified three times in front of the Saskatchewan government's inquiry into the project, without ever revealing that the Devine government was paying him $22,000 a year through the agency seeking to build the dam. Mr. Hansen fought hard against building the Burlington Dam a few years ago on the American side of the border which would have provided flood control for Minot but also would have flooded part of his own ranch. Mr.Hansen was successful: the project was defeated and now the U.S. government is "helping" build the dam in Canada.

We believe the Rafferty Dam is part of something bigger. The Rafferty, along with the Oldman River Dam under construction in Alberta, only make sense as part of a water diversion to the United States. Because 90 per cent of Canadians, according to federal government study, are opposed to the export of Canadian water, this aspect of the project has not been made public and the Devine government is using the front of a purely localized development to "save" precious water for the dry prairies.

Stephen Kendall, former director of the South Saskatchewan River Basin study, let the cat out of the bag when in the summer of 1988 he questioned the lack of water in the Souris and linked the Rafferty Dam with water diversions from the South Saskatchewan. He was promptly fired by the Saskatchewan government without notice or compensation.

Once the Rafferty and Oldman dams are in place all that is required is a drought in the U.S., a media blitz about the desperate U.S. need for our water, and the primary structures are all there to divert our rivers south with the simple opening of the gates. In spite of denials from high places, water is part of the Free Trade Agreement -- the "key" to the deal, as Simon Reisman, then adviser to the Grand Canal project, called it. In 1985 he asked, "Do we have the courage and the imagination yes, the audacity to take on these two big projects, free trade and fresh water sharing, at the same time?" In 1990, Grant Devine says yes.

The Raferty-Alameda controversy is not just about the environment. It is about the transfer of control of our rivers to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is about the Free Trade Agreement and Canadian politicians working in the interest of a foreign nation. And the opposition to the Rafferty-Alameda does not come from "Toronto environmentalists" but from those of us right here on the prairies who will pay the bill for its construction and the price of its long term effects.

David Orchard is a Borden, Saskatchewan, farmer and the National Chairman of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade.
Marjaleena Repo is a researcher and the National Organizer for Citizens Concerned About Free Trade.
Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, P.O. Box 8052, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7K 4R7.
Tel: (306) 244-5757.

Published in the Connexions Digest #53, January 1991.



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