Canadian Alberta’s Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has won the right to have its lawsuit against BC Hydro for damages to tribal lands heard in an Alberta court. The natives claim in their suit that the operation of BC Hydro’s Bennet dam, during the 31 years since it was built, has devastated the Peace-Athabasca delta in northern Alberta.

Peace river, which originates in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, flows across Alberta, before emptying into Lake Athabasca, on the northeastern Alberta border. The native group claims that the Bennet dam has damaged the ecosystem in the delta, affecting the hunting, fishing and trapping rights guaranteed to it under Treaty 8, signed in 1899. A multi-million dollar study of the northern river basins, including the Peace river, completed in 1995 and funded by the Canadian federal government and provincial governments, agreed that the delta ecosystem had been affected due to Bennet dam operations. The native group wants compensation for the damage done and assurances that it will not continue. BC Hydro owns and operates the Bennet and the Peace Canyon dams, both located within British Columbia on the Peace river. Completed in 1968, Bennet dam impounds over 7x1010m3 of runoff to develop hydro power at Bennet and Peace Canyon. The operation of the two dams is tied up with the generation of nearly 17,000GWh of energy for BC Hydro, at the 2680MW Shrum and 700MW Peace Canyon power stations.

In 1995, BC Hydro agreed to an out of court settlement in a damage suit, filed by the Alberta government against the utility, which claimed BC Hydro was negligent in the operation of the Bennet and Peace Canyon dams. The payments to Alberta at the time included the cost of constructing several water control and level stabilising structures in the Peace Athabasca delta.