Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador man stunned by water levels from flooding reservoir at Muskrat Falls

A Nunatsiavut man living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay says it's sad to see the wooded area long known for trapping go under water as Muskrat Falls work continues.

Trees underwater as Nalcor begins the planned work, after years of controversy

Water at the Lower Churchill River buries trees Tuesday as Nalcor floods the reservoir to generate electricity at Muskrat Falls. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

One week after Nalcor started flooding the reservoir for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, the sight of trees under water is shocking some residents. 

"I'm stunfounded by seeing everything being flooded here," said Curtis Saunders, taking in the flooding woods for the first time Tuesday.

Saunders said his family has lived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for three generations, and as a Nunatsiavut beneficiary he's proud of the stand his government has taken against the Muskrat Falls project.

Curtis Saunders says the changes to the natural habitat around the Churchill River are difficult to take in. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"Yes, it did create a lot of employment, yes. No doubt about it, it's got its good and it's got its bad. But I think the bad overall reflects the people of Labrador, how they feel." 

Although Saunders himself is not a trapper, he said his family's way of life has long revolved around the river — canoeing and trapping there — and that's all changed. 

"Not only my brother and my family, but there's also elders from previous years from North West River, from Mud Lake. This was their river, this was their livelihood in those days," he said. 

"And seeing it going underwater now, it's sad." 

Nalcor has shared this diagram of the water lines before and after flooding the reservoir at Muskrat Falls on its website and social media pages. (Nalcor Energy/Twitter)

Tilt washed away 

Photos posted to Facebook on Monday show an old cabin — also called a tilt — that belonged to a trapper's family for generations, caught up in a safety boom meant to catch debris as it washed downstream.

Nalcor said structures such as that hut were identified during the environmental assessment for the project, and in 2009 people started getting notices about removing those within the flooding area. 

A spokesperson said Nalcor worked with cabin owners who held licences from the provincial government to occupy Crown land, and shared removal notices with those who did not. 

This tilt was removed from the river after being swept up in controlled flooding at Muskrat Falls on Monday. (Jenny Gear/Facebook)

"Nalcor is aware that some remote structures that were built on Crown land without title were not removed by the owner prior to impoundment," the spokesperson said.

One of them was caught by the debris boom Monday and removed from the river.

Nalcor Energy says these removal notices were posted on structures identified as being within the flooding area starting in 2009. (Nalcor Energy/Submitted)

The Crown corporation said it has shared details of the flooding plans required for generating electricity at Muskrat Falls and will continue issuing regular updates.

In contrast to the high levels of water above the dam, below it the water levels are significantly lower than they have been, with Saunders noting he could walk where he never had before. 

"Speak to the people along the river bank and they'll tell you the same thing," he said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jacob Barker