Nfld. & Labrador

Muskrat Falls opponents gather for 'last meal' as water rises in reservoir

On the eve of impoundment at the troubled hydroelectric project, critics eat wild food they say will be affected by methylmercury released by flooding.

Fish and brewis, salmon and duck on the menu for people concerned about higher methylmercury levels

The Labrador Land Protectors, an anti-Muskrat Falls Group, hosted a 'last meal' on the eve of impoundment of the hydroelectric project's reservoir. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

As waters levels began to rise in the Muskrat Falls reservoir, critics of the controversial hydroelectric project ate what they called the "final meal" in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Tuesday.

Roberta Benefiel, member of the anti-Muskrat groups Labrador Land Protectors and Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, was preparing fish and brewis, and said the meal would also include salmon and duck.

"[These are] things that people will miss if the methylmercury rises in the food chain, so that's why we wanted to do it with traditional food," she said.

Opponents have long said flooding the reservoir will create unsafe levels of methylmercury in traditional food sources downstream, but the provincial government and Nalcor recently dismissed the Nunatsiavut government's plea to delay impoundment and reconsider mitigation measures.

Nunatsiavut was the only Indigenous group that didn't accept $10 million earmarked for capping, which never took place.

Roberta Benefiel of the Labrador Land Protectors and Grand Riverkeeper Labrador groups prepares for the meal at her home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"I don't eat the amount of country food people from Rigolet do," Benefiel said.

"So this is our way of supporting Rigolet and supporting Nunatsiavut in what they did over the years and just getting together and sharing food."

As Benefiel prepared her part of the feast Tuesday afternoon, Nalcor sent out a statement saying levels in the reservoir were already on the rise.

"We anticipate that the water levels in the reservoir will begin to increase later this evening and will rise to approximately 30m over the coming days," it reads.  

Erin Saunders of the Land Protectors shows off the salmon she cooked for the meal. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

"We anticipate that by the end of September the water level in the reservoir will reach its final required elevation of 39m."  
 

Safety warning

Nalcor also said people need to be cautious around the reservoir as water levels rise.

"Conditions in the river, along the banks, and in the newly impounded areas, will be constantly changing and can change rapidly," says the statement.

"It is important to avoid the Muskrat Falls reservoir area between Muskrat Falls and Gull Island."

Nalcor's statement also says the corporation will be monitoring the performance of the structures that make up the dam and doing regular inspections.

"During impoundment, our trained staff will regularly walk around the structures inspecting, observing and recording their behaviour and travel by helicopter to survey the entire reservoir area.

"Our automated monitoring includes a variety of instruments that measure and record conditions such as water pressure and seepage, structure movement, water level and temperature."

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About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

With files from Rebecca Martel