Minnesotans demand environmental accountability from Manitoba Hydro
News from Indian Country, Hayward WI, mid-March 2000, p10A
Cross Lake, Manitoba (ICC) -- Northern States Power is the largest American
purchaser of electricity generated by the five dams and reservoirs built on
the Nelson River in northern Manitoba. One of these dams is ten miles from
Cross Lake, home of Pimicikamak Cree Nation. The massive hydroproject was
built by Manitoba Hydro, a state-owned utility in Canada.
"We suffer from the upstream impacts as well as the downstream impacts,"
said Councillor Kenny Miswaggon in a phone interview. "Flooding the land to
create the reservoirs caused methylmercury pollution. The water released
from Lake Winnipeg upstream into our Nelson River powers the turbines, but
at the same time the force of the water and its fluctuations cause
Flooding the land to create reservoirs destroyed the Cree way of life, one
which was based on hunting, fishing and trapping. Adults who once sustained
their families today have little or nothing to do, and the community's
unemployment rate is estimated at 85-90 percent. "Our youth want to come
back after graduation," said Coucillor Miswaggon, who is thirty years old.
"As an elected official, what can I promise them?"
In Minnesota, eight state legislators are sponsors of the Hydro Review Bill,
filed last month. The legislation requires that out-of-state hydroelectric
facilities submit the same environmental assessment information now expected
of in-state facilities.
"Non-Minnesota utilities would no longer be exempt form revealing the true
impacts of their operation," said Diane Peterson, a grassroots energy
activist who supports the bill's passage. "We need to see impact assessments
to determine whether Minnesota is participating in avoidable environmental
destruction when it buys hydroelectricity produced beyond our borders."
She asks, "What's the point of preserving habitats and species in Minnesota
if we're going to turn a blind eye to what's happening in the north?"
Manitoba Hydro is one of Northern States Power's preferred suppliers to sell
more electricity to Minnesota. Activists have begun a letter-writing
campaign to the Public Utilities Commission, objecting to more damaging
imports from Canada.
"Despite strenuous objections, NSP finally built 400 megawatts of windpower
in southwest Minnesota and there's enough wind to deliver another 800
megawatts. It proves that our utilities can find alternatives to
mega-hydro," commented an astute observer. "You've got to hand it to the
grassroots. They're doing their homework and they're not afraid to challenge
the powers that be."
North American Water Office in Lake Elmo, a grassoots-based group with years
of experience supporting better energy choices, has joined with the
environmental studies program at the University of St. Thomas to present a
conference on Saturday, April 15. "The purpose is to get more people talking
and to learn about the human and environmental impacts of large,
central-station generation," said George Crocker, NAWO's executive director.
Crocker expects a large contingent of activists to attend the event at the
new downtown Minneapolis campus of St. Thomas. "We've been working with
Wisconsin activists, and the LCO and Mole Lake tribes to block a 260-mile
transmission line from Duluth to Wausau that would ship cheap coal and hydro
electricity through Minnesota and Wisconsin," Crocker said.
"We need to discuss in detail what kind of energy policy and choices we all
want for the Midwest."
For more information: North American Water Office: 651-770-3861;
For more information about Pimicikamak Cree Nation: 612-871-8404;