Regcreek (62K)

     The Fate of the Mactaquac Dam

So it seems that the Mactaquac Dam on the Saint John River needs to be overhauled, perhaps even replaced, within the next ten years or so. The concrete in its walls keeps expanding, and they are running out of room to cut strips out of it to relieve the tension. That is about as complex an explanation as I can provide.

Mactaquac Hydroelectric dam
The Mactaquac Dam floods the Saint John River and its tributaries 90 kilometres upstream.

Rumors are flying. Are they going to build a new dam? Are they going to demolish it? Refurbish it?

The big question is, What will happen to the huge headpond, which backs the big river upstream as far as Hartland?

chiefs (94K)
Maliseet chiefs and European clergy meet long ago on the banks of Wolastoq, the Maliseet name for their river, our Saint John.

As one can imagine, people are already taking sides about the fate of the dam. Landowners who built their palatial homes on the shores of the headpond fear they will be left high and dry. Folks who lament the loss of the salmon run yearn for a free-flowing stream, and the restoration of the old valley. And this debate is taking place with input from NB Power, the owners of the massive dam.

NB Power has identified three possible options for the station, each with broad implications for people and the natural environment. NB Power will seek input from experts, First Nations and all New Brunswickers before selecting a preferred option in 2016.

There was little or no environmental study made in the 1960s, when the dam was planned and built. Environmental impact assessment was not as thorough as is the case today. Folks were uprooted from their homes and communities without their sayso, and villages were left either drowned or abandoned on the banks. These are true facts, but I don't feel they contribute to any debate. Time passes.

Even I remember trips up the river valley in our family car as a child before the dam was built. They left a lasting impression and many images for my mind's eye, and it was so many years ago.

Yet, even though generations have passed, there may still be some who feel a lingering attachment to the land now under the water. What about the Maliseet people, for whom the Saint John River was the living center of their culture? What part will they play in the debate?

If they do drain the headpond, it won't be pretty. It will surely take a generation for the valley to rebound. What about the siltation of the lake floor? The river carries a tremendous load of sediment from the potato fields and clearcuts upstream down into the headpond, and how deep must the sediment lie on the bottom? The river would run brown for quite a while, I should think.

Millions of dollars in real estate will evaporate, as the communities built along the headpond lose their view and access. Location, location, location.

What's at the bottom of the headpond? For instance, communities held annual 50-50 contests to guess the day, hour and minute when the tire piles they placed on the solid headpond ice in winter would crash through the melting ice in spring and sink to the bottom. And yes, I've heard rumours that cars were sunk in the headpond ... but just rumours, I was never there.

WWF-Canada's Living Rivers has taken an interest in the debate. We see a real opportunity to play a part in shaping the future of the river, to quote their website. So it looks like the debate is underway in earnest.

No matter which way the debate swings, it would be nice to paddle down the river in reality, not merely in my dreams. Jus' sayin'.

Should You Love Your Paddle?


NB Power invites public input!

New Brunswick Political Panel: March 12. CBC's Terry Seguin hosts the NB Political Panel. This week's topic is the future of the Mactaquac Dam.

Read more: N.B. gov't working to determine future of Mactaquac dam

The Saint John River: A State of the Environment Report

New Brunswick's Electrical Odyssey

Paddling the Saint John River

Friends of Mactaquac Lake

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