A satellite image shows Lake Claire, a portion of Lake Athabasca, and a portion of the Peace River. Sentinel-2/ESA/Wikimedia
As part of the Wood Buffalo National Park Action Plan, the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) wants to play a larger role in managing the Peace River and Peace-Athabasca Delta.
Late last year, Parks Canada announced a three-year, $59.9-million commitment to support conservation efforts in Wood Buffalo National Park. With the funding, one of MCFN’s priorities is a new water management council for the Peace River.
Melody Lepine, MCFN’s director of government and industry relations, said the water council would help control the flow of the Peace River to prevent flooding or other damage to the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
“This past summer, we all had significant flooding issues everywhere, including on the Peace,” said Lepine.
“A water council can really be about collaboration where we can have a seat at the table in making key decisions that impact the delta.”
Lepine says a Fort Chipewyan water council would also play a role in water management agreements crossing provincial boundaries. When water moves freely across provincial borders, activities in one province impact people and ecosystems downstream.
Fort Chipewyan, for instance, is downstream from the Bennett Dam, BC Hydro’s massive hydroelectric project. The Peace River flows northeast from the Bennett Dam and into Alberta. In turn, the Peace River’s waters flow into the Slave River and into the Northwest Territories.
Lepine said the amount of water held back or released by the Bennett Dam has significant impacts on the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
With the Alberta government working on an agreement with British Columbia, Lepine said MCFN needs to be involved in those discussions.
“These kinds of management decisions exclude Mikisew Cree,” she said. “If they are negotiating an agreement for how much water BC Hydro can release, we need to be able to say they cannot release at times of flooding.”
Rhonda Clarke-Gauthier, executive director of the Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance (MPWA), said a mindfulness of natural river flow systems is an important piece of water management. Decisions being made at the Bennett Dam are currently having an effect on ice crossings on the Peace-Athabasca Delta, she said.
The MPWA provides recommendations and policy for water management. Clarke-Gauthier said the organization has recommended that provincial governments follow natural river flows while holding back or releasing water, but the decision is ultimately in the hands of Alberta and British Columbia.
Clarke-Gauthier says a water management council established by the Mikisew Cree would be helpful. The MPWA has seats on its board from Indigenous communities but has not yet filled those seats.
“Having an engaged group of people to bounce ideas off of and have those conversations with is always a benefit,” she said.
Lepine said a water management council would help protect the delta from the environmental effects of future industry projects.
“Site C is being constructed right now on the Peace River,” said Lepine. “Having these different jurisdictions and Indigenous groups, such as Mikisew Cree, be a part of some of these decisions will mitigate damage to the delta.”