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Hydroelectricity: River takes a new path

From rushing rivers deep in Canada's wilderness comes the electricity that keeps our cities humming. As a renewable, emissions-free source of energy, hydroelectricity is "green," but flooding from hydroelectric dams has sometimes devastated traditional aboriginal livelihoods. Ranging from a single tidal turbine to Niagara Falls to a dam carved from a mountain, Canada's hydro projects provide 60 per cent of this country's power.

Hydroelectric power takes advantage of one of the most powerful forces in nature: rushing water. But hydro authorities often have to fight nature in order to harness the water's full potential. In building the James Bay hydroelectric project, Hydro-Québec must redirect the flow of three rivers to maximize the project's potential on the La Grande River. In this CBC clip, reporter Ray Fichaud shows how workers forced a new course for the Eastmain River.

For millennia the Eastmain has flowed west into James Bay. By building a small dam from both banks into the river, workers gradually cut off the main pathway to send the water down a nearby diversion canal. They use boulders blasted out in the digging of the canal to fill in the gaps in the cofferdam, sealing off the river and sending it north to feed a network of reservoirs and the La Grande River. 
. Building dams is another engineering feat necessary for hydroelectric projects.
. Canada's highest dam is the 243-metre-high Mica Dam in British Columbia. See an clip in which B.C. Premier W.A.C. Bennett defends his vision for B.C.'s hydro future.
. Of the world's top ten largest hydroelectric plants by capacity, Canada has two: Churchill Falls in Labrador and La Grande 2 in Quebec.

. Redirecting the Eastmain River was just one small part of the huge James Bay Project. For more about the project and how it affected the native people living in the region, please visit the CBC Archives topic James Bay Project and the Cree.

. In February 2002 the province of Quebec and the Cree of James Bay came to a historic agreement ending 30 years of acrimony. The Cree voted 70 per cent in favour of stopping all litigation against the province and allowing Hydro-Québec to develop a hydroelectric project on the Eastmain and Rupert rivers. In return, Quebec agreed to pay the Cree $3.5 billion over the following 50 years.
Medium: Television
Program: City at Six
Broadcast Date: July 21, 1978
Reporter: Ray Fichaud
Duration: 3:36

Last updated: September 18, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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