The Innu of Pessamit are concerned about the fact that Hydro-Québec has decided to raise the level of the Manicouagan reservoir and to exceed, for the first time since 1985, the bar of 354 metres.
15 July 2020
Updated on July 16, 2020 to 4h18
The Court closes the valve of Hydro-Québec
Hydro-Québec shall not increase the water level of the Manicouagan reservoir, directs the superior Court, at least until the trial in September that will determine whether an enhancement is a threat to the environment.
Luc Labrie is an Innu of Pessamit, community of about 2000 people located 54 km southwest of Baie-Comeau on the North Shore. As several residents of the village, he frequented the vicinity of the Manicouagan reservoir for fishing and hunting. Luc Labrie has a camp near the huge reservoir off of 45 kilometers.
Since the spring of 2017, Luc Labrie and the Innu Council of Pessamit lead a legal battle against Hydro-Quebec. They are concerned that Hydro-Quebec has decided to raise the level of the Manicouagan reservoir and to exceed, for the first time since 1985, the bar of 354 metres. According to the Innu, the state-run company wants to meet its objectives of exporting electricity.
The level of the Manicouagan reservoir depends mainly on the amount of rain and snow that supplies it and the energy demand on the whole territory of the country. A spillway on the dam allows Hydro-Québec to regulate the water level in the tank.
According to the Innu, the maintenance of the reservoir at a lower level for more than three decades has allowed the flora and fauna to develop. A raising threat clearly the nature, they argue, adding that the erosion of the banks has already begun.
Until last march, Hydro-Québec had agreed not to raise the reservoir level beyond that of 354 metres. She has since changed her mind. The crown corporation proposes to regularly report to the Innu of the level of the tank. It is this change of tone, which has pushed the Innu claim to an interlocutory injunction.
Judge Daniel Dumais of the superior Court shall hear the trial on the merits from September 14. The debate promises to be loaded with a thirty pieces and expert reports and allegations of violations of four environmental laws.
In waiting, the court believes it has enough elements to grant an interlocutory injunction which obliges Hydro-Québec, for the next two months, to keep the status quo.
“At this stage, we do not know what will be the final judgment. The debate remains to be done, ” says the judge Dumais, in its decision of 14 July. But it seems pretty clear that if the plaintiffs (the Innu, N.D.L.R.) convince the Court to impose a height limit in the tank, there will be damage that is not quantifiable in the event that this threshold is exceeded by the decision. It is not simply a matter of emptying a metal trough filled with water. A final judgment will put everything in order, as if nothing had happened.”
In 2016, Hydro-Quebec said to be able to reach in three years the maximal height of dam operations, either 359.66 metres. Its intentions with regard to the enhancement of the level of the water, however, are not clear, says the court.
The superior Court emphasized in its decision at what point the Manicouagan reservoir is “an essential tool in the management of the demand and energy security”. The court says it is aware that the management of the electrical network is the responsibility of Hydro-Québec. “She must see to the interests of all Quebecers,” says the judge Dumais. But one fact remains. It has never reached a level of 356 metres in the past 35 years.”
This is not the first time that Hydro-Québec will be heard by the superior Court to stop filling the reservoir Manicouagan. In July 2017, the judge Serge Francoeur had given reason to the Council of the Innu of Pessamit and ordered the crown corporation to keep the water level unchanged.