Ottawa

Dam operator turning to Riverkeeper to help prevent more fish deaths

The operator of the hydroelectric plant blamed for the mysterious deaths of hundreds of fish found floating in the Lièvre and Ottawa rivers this summer has reached out to the Ottawa Riverkeeper for help preventing a similar disaster.

Hydro plant on Lièvre River blamed after investigation by Quebec's Environment Ministry

Hundreds of dead fish were found washed up along the Lièvre and Ottawa rivers this summer. On Thursday, Quebec's Environment Ministry blamed a hydroelectric plant in nearby Masson-Angers. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

The operator of the hydroelectric plant blamed for the mysterious deaths of hundreds of fish found floating in the Lièvre and Ottawa rivers this summer has reached out to the Ottawa Riverkeeper for help preventing a similar disaster.

"[It was] an unfortunate event, but it looks like we've got a company that is acknowledging the issue and is willing to work with other partners going forward," said Patrick Nadeau, the environmental agency's executive director.

Quebec's environment ministry found operations at Evolugen's plant in Masson-Angers resulted in the over-saturation of dissolved gas in the Lièvre River, killing some 2,000 fish since early July.

The company said this spring's flooding blocked its dam with debris, requiring more cleaning. Nadeau said further investigation is needed to understand the link between that and the fish deaths.

"We need to understand precisely what happened here, not only so that it doesn't happen again on the Lièvre, but frankly on all the dams that are being operated in this watershed," he said.

Ottawa Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau said his organization will be releasing a list of recommendations to help prevent similar incidents. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government has ordered the plant to monitor dissolved gas levels in order to ensure they don't endanger aquatic life, a move applauded by Nadeau.

"Throughout this process we actually realized that even some basic data was not being collected," he said. "There's no reason those things can't be monitored on an ongoing basis."

Quebec's Environment Ministry also ordered Evolugen to hire an expert to "identify the operating conditions of the dam that are likely to cause the phenomenon in question," and to comply with the expert's recommendations.

Nadeau said his organization will be issuing its own recommendations at a later date, and called for all findings to be shared broadly to learn from what happened this summer.

Mystery of dead fish solved, but questions remain 0:44

Lingering questions

Steven Cooke, an environmental science and biology professor at Carleton University, said he's glad to have "what appears to be an answer" to the mystery, but still has many questions.

"At this point, there are still a few pieces of information missing," he said. "[Frequent cleaning of debris] alone does not give us any information about how gasses ended up exceeding thresholds that kill fish."

Cooke worries that with climate change, incidents like this could occur more frequently. 

Residents along the Lièvre River said they're relieved to finally have an answer, but are hoping the plant takes action to avoid a similar incident.

"We were suspecting the plant, but we didn't know the exact cause. Now we do," said Masson-Angers resident Martin Beausoleil in French on Friday.

"We just hope it will all get sorted out soon."

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