Peace River Hydro Partners recently pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of British Columbia in Fort St. John to one charge of depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish, in contravention of the federal Fisheries Act. It was fined $1.1 million, which will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund to support projects that have a positive impact on Canada’s natural environment.

Peace River Hydro Partners construction on the Site C dam in November 2018 (Peace River Hydro Partners)

The charge stemmed from an investigation by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers into the discharge of 3,300 cubic metres of contaminated drainage water into the Peace River on September 9 and 10, 2018. The investigation determined that, during a high rainfall event, the water management infrastructure at the Site C Clean Energy Project near Fort St. John, British Columbia, had insufficient available capacity to treat the additional drainage, and a mix of treated and untreated drainage was released into the Peace River. The contaminated drainage water had a low pH (acidic) and a high concentration of metals. A sample of the drainage water collected on September 9, 2018, determined that it contained a concentration of aluminum that was acutely lethal to fish. This unauthorized release was contrary to subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act. Subsection 36(3) of the Act prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish, or in an area which could lead to water frequented by fish. The Peace River is “water frequented by fish”, as defined under the Fisheries Act. The river contains 33 species of fish.

The fine will be placed in the Environmental Damages Fund. The Environmental Damages Fund was created in 1995 and is a Government of Canada program administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Fund helps ensure that court-awarded penalties are used to repair environmental damage or to benefit the environment. The Fund receives and redirects the money from court penalties and settlements, and aims to invest in areas where the environmental damage occurred.

As a result of this conviction, Peace River Hydro Partners will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry. The Registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.