U.S. dam plan seen flooding Okanagan farmland

A proposal for a reservoir and hydroelectric dam just south of the Canada/U.S. border near Osoyoos, B.C. could flood over 9,000 acres of farmland, habitat and grasslands, the B.C. government warns.

The British Columbia government said Tuesday it has filed for intervenor status with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over the proposed Shanker’s Bend water storage project.

Such status would have the province added as a party to any possible future proceedings having to do with the Shanker’s Bend proposals.

FERC issued a preliminary permit last Dec. 18 to allow the study of three proposals for the construction of water storage and a hydro dam at Shanker’s Bend on the Similkameen River, less than two kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border. The three proposals include an 80-metre-high dam, a lower-height dam and a “run-of-the-river” project.

The B.C. government’s specific concern is the 80-m dam proposal, which could flood an area covering more than 9,000 acres, including what the province describes as “sensitive habitat.”

Specifically, the province said, the area expected to be flooded would impact First Nations lands southeast of Keremeos, about 45 km southwest of Penticton. It would also affect two provincial protected areas, Snowy Protected Area and South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area, along with “at least 20 provincially declared blue- and red-listed species, a potential national grasslands park and valuable agricultural land.”

The ag land in question is in the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District, which Environment Minister Barry Penner described Tuesday as “a high-value agricultural area with product sales throughout British Columbia and the world.”

The area is also home to 16 federally-listed species at risk, for which it’s a federal offense to threaten, damage or destroy habitat, the province said.

“Careful consideration and environmental scrutiny are necessary before a decision is made regarding the other two, smaller options being considered,” the province said.

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