Blindfolded from Biodiversity

by niancu on November 10, 2017 - 4:55pm

Dams that were built on the Saskatchewan River during the 1960s and 1980s have had no environmental assessments and have caused difficulties for biodiversity in the river and consequently, the indigenous way of life around the river. This is being discussed in the media because their licences are being renewed which would increase and aggravate the already existing issues. The purpose of this article was to explain the political actors around the issue of relicensing the E.B. Campbell and Nipawin dams. There are quite a few actors involved in the situation:

Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency (WSA) does not believe there will be any adverse effects in renewing the licenses for the dams, and insists there have not been significant negative effects thus far.

John Desjarlais is the CEO of Cumberland House Cree First Nation, and he states that the environmental impacts they were compensated for were significantly under-estimated. As a result, they are asking for money to conduct their own research and assurance that they may address future problems with the dams.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the First Nation did not need to be consulted regarding issues with the dams.
SaskPower is the power company running the dams. Dan Johnston is the Aboriginal Affairs Officer for the energy company, and he states that the company will not pay for the First Nation to do their own testing.

As it now stands, SaskPower has asked to speak with the First Nation about treaty rights, but John Desjarlais (the CEO of Cumberland House Cree First Nation) believes it is a ploy for the energy company to say they held a consultation.

Evidence that the story relies on comes from Norman Smith, a researcher from the University of Nebraska, who has noted that the dams not only make the area around the river difficult for wildlife to habitat, but is also causing erosion of the river’s shores. SaskPowers has referenced the work of Dr. Tim Jardine from the University of Saskatchewan, although Dr. Jardine insists his work on the Saskatchewan River biodiversity in 2012 was not funded by or a consultation for SaskPowers.

I initially thought of command and control management in this situation because although SaskPowers is trying to come across as being adaptive and using scientific research, it is really falling back on government mandates and is trying to take attention away from uncertainty and conflict. The energy company seems to be removing itself from the environment by refusing to acknowledge biodiversity issues at hand.

Conflict and uncertainty have brought about new management demands. In this case, I believe there is evidence of value, interest, and behavioural conflict. This is because the First Nation seek biodiversity protection, want SaskPower to pay for their research, and distrust the intentions of SaskPower’s actions while SaskPower/Saskatchewan seek renewable energy from the dams, only want to pay for their own research, and are not transparent with their intentions. There are elements of uncertainty, as it seems as though the consequences of the dam are noticeable and recorded, but since there is no official evidence directly relating to the dam certain parties (SaskPower/Saskatchewan) are able to disregard the environmental issues.

The First Nation wants to do their own personal consultation of the dams, although any public participation is being shut down by SaskPower through lack of funding. I feel that although public participation can reduce value, behavioural, and interest conflict, SaskPower is aware of the environmental damage the dams have caused and are concerned of the cost of mitigation or worse, an entire shut down of the dams. The public participation they are willing to participate in is communication and co-operation with the First Nation, although this is not met well by CEO Desjarlais. He does not believe that SaskPower will honestly discuss treaty issues but will rather use the occurrence of a meeting as evidence of a consultation. The article states a couple of times that SaskPower has not divulged information or statements, and this makes me also question their intentions regarding the dams and their concerns about the river’s biodiversity.


Calloway, G. 2017, October 30.Saskatchewan First Nation demands consultation in relicensing of dams. The Globe and Mail.