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New governance over Nechako River part of MOU between regional district, First Nations

Seeking new governance regime of Nechako River for environmental restoration
RDBN signs memorandum of understanding regarding the Kenney Dam, and management of the Nechako River (File photo/Lakes District News)

Regional district officials and local First Nations have come together to restore the health of the Nechako River.

A memorandum signed by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, as well as the Saik’uz, Stellat’en and Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, calls for more natural flows in the river and new stewardship projects.

It also calls for a new governance regime to replace the old one, currently led by mining company Rio Tinto, which was established in 1987.

The Nechako River was dammed at its source in the early 1950s to provide power to the an aluminum smelter in Kitimat. The dam is now owned by Rio Tinto. As a result, the original flow of the river to Prince George was reduced by two-thirds.

The goal of the memorandum is to align the oversight of the watershed with Indigenous reconciliation.

“The Kenney Dam has fundamentally altered the Nechako River and interfered with the Nechako First Nations’ Aboriginal title and rights,” a news release by the district reads.

Lakes District News spoke to RDBN Chair of the Board, Gerry Theissen, who further explained the regions decision for the memorandum.

“As a result of the dam, the river has at least two freshets in the course of the year instead of one, which is a normal water flow. We’ll never get back to a natural flow, but if it could resemble the graph of what a natural flow would be, that’s what we would like to work towards,” Thiessen said.

“Decision making on the river needs to be more of a mindset than just aluminum production. There needs to be a management regime on the river where the proper consultations are made and it needs to be led by First Nations.”

A spokesperson for Rio Tinto gave Lakes District News said in a statement that the governance of the river should be “an inclusive process that evolves over time,” adding that reservoir management is a complex matter with a number of varying needs, from flood management to supplying power to the health of the Kemano river.

READ MORE: Rio Tinto working with Southside resident in Nechako Reservoir

“We are committed to working with the Nechako First Nations, other First Nations, government and stakeholders to review all aspects of the Nechako Reservoir management process.”

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Eddie Huband
Multimedia Reporter
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