Capturing Northern Runoff in Quebec
January 7, 2012 • 5:37PM

This project, as well as the "St. Lawrence Flood Control" project found in a future post, was designed and submitted by F. Pierre Gingras, who has made articles about them available for this posting on this blog. F. Pierre Gingras is a specialist in industrial engineering, whose role among other studies was the chief cost and planning engineer for Hydro-Quebec dam construction and maintenance for more than 17 of the 35 years he has been involved in the construction of hydroelectric projects. This is a brilliant design by someone who should be a reference point for engineering projects in Quebec. Please submit any comments below. ---Michael Kirsch


Water from the North: Quebec’s Blue Gold

By F. Pierre Gingras

Global Situation about fresh water

Only 3 % of the water of the Earth is drinkable, of which, 2 % are in the glaciers. It means that everything that lives outside of the oceans does so with less than 1% of all the available water on Earth. Worse, with climate changes apparently under way, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification predicts that 70% of the land will one day be hit by drought, of which 41% of lands are already affected. Also, more than 100 projects of reuse of freshwater or diversions are being implemented, ongoing or planned worldwide, including several major projects such as a huge concrete canal of 800 km in China, diversion of several Russian rivers of the Arctic Ocean to the Aral Sea, etc.

Here, in Canada,, it is anticipated that the reduction in water supplies to the Great Lakes over long-term is estimated at 20 to 30 % or about 1 500 to 1800 MCS, i.e. about 20 % of the flow of the river in Montreal. In addition to this situation, there is the added growing need of the population of the St. Lawrence Basin. Meanwhile, in Quebec, the expected rainfall could increase by a percentage of 14%, while a flow of 40 000 MCS is already being discarded to the seas, enough for 7.5 billion people, even at the excessive rate of consumption of 100 gallons per day, per person. This increase of 14 % of the flows would lead to enormous spring floods that the project would effectively control in the James Bay and Ottawa River basins.

This context makes that the agreements; conventions and laws passed over the years are already obsolete for all practical purposes.

Project Description

The project “Water from the North”, named in memory of Mr. Bourassa, who wrote “Energy from the North”, aims to pool together the seasonal water surpluses of three major rivers in the Matagami area, very carefully and without draining any riverbed, then pumping this water on 52 meters before discharging it in the Ottawa River and St. Lawrence Basin. The mean flow diverted is around 800 MCS, or 2% of the waters of Quebec, which would be required to respond generously to the needs of a population of 153 million human beings.

Quebec would then be free to keep these waters to maintain its environment on the St-Lawrence River or enable the people of the Great Lakes to keep a flow rate equivalent for its needs and to protect the environment of the Great Lakes and this vast region. The non-fulfilment of this project would be catastrophic for the environment.

The reservoirs would submerge an total area of some 1030 sq km, or about a third of the LG-2 reservoir. The complex, with a length of 1250 km, made up of 25 small-scale projects, most of which would be to add a second powerhouse to existing dams on the Ottawa River, without any enhancement of the water level, since the existing dams are already able to evacuate floods of some 12-14 times greater. The waters would always be moved by the natural riverbed, at a rate well below the natural flow of flood, to avoid impacts such flooding and strong currents. Moreover, this water scheme could develop a huge surplus of energy, even if the value of water is of utmost importance, with a power 3640 MW and an amount of energy of 14.2 TWh.

It's more energy and power than expected from the Lower Churchill, Great Whale or Romaine-Petit Mécatina complexes and this, near to the consuming regions. The amount of energy generated would be sufficient to electrify the entire private cars fleet of Ontario to Newfoundland. This project would be the prime example of a sustainable, renewable and profitable development.

The flow will be generally somewhat lower, it is true, for the downstream part of the Nottaway and Broadback rivers but if required, in particular, water levels can be maintained by small dams, spring flooding could be recreated by controlled spills, as in the case of Rupert River, but with lot less impact yet. For each kilometre of these rivers, the project aims to save 40 km of shoreline in the valley of the St. Lawrence. Moreover, the enormous sprig floods foreseen according to the climate changes, would be controlled. Nature would not lose; the only alternative is to persist in this irresponsible discharge of fresh water at sea.

Rationale and profitability of the project

The water needs of growing populations of the Great Lakes will eventually need to be respond, other countries around the world are even in danger of war for the same reason. Moreover, far from suffering any prejudice to meet these needs, in addition to safeguarding the environment of the St. Lawrence Basin and to humanitarian efforts, Quebec could benefit to restore its financial position of most effective way. A reference may lie in the current cost of water desalination, to 80 cents per cubic meter (when water is available) for an annual value of water exported from the order of $ 20 billion, in 2009. .... Moreover, the configuration of the different basins, rivers and canals is such that the water could even be sold at auction as far as Louisiana!

Depending on negotiations to be undertaken, the evolution of water costs, energy and pollution credits, this project estimated at 14.2 billion dollars to its full operation set for the year 2022, estimate detailed at some 6000 articles, could report annually more than ten billions dollars! Moreover, to this estimate of 14.2 billions of dollars, one should remove about 50 % to cover the cost of updating theses hydroelectric installations, work that will have to be done anyway.

Origin and Nature of Studies

The possibility of exporting water from Quebec has always formed a very sensitive political subject that politicians avoid. It indeed associates automatically water export with drying rivers. ... Hydro-Québec’s mission does not cover water exports and, therefore, had no mandate to study such a project as the “Water from the North” and could not have a mandate for those same political reasons that water exportation is a sensitive subject.

So, in May 2004, a group of private experts, mostly retirees, from Hydro-Quebec and the world of consulting engineering, curious and passionate, sometimes referred to various technical studies, was put to work, far from suspecting that the study would take such a scale. Various groups and consultants, including the Montreal Economic Institute, have collaborated gradually, thinking that someone would, one day, see if the possibility of exporting water was real and achievable in respect to our environment and this, before Quebec is faced with an already accomplished fact for reasons fully justifiable and unavoidable about population water needs.

Many other major rivers diversions have been built in Quebec in the past, fully justified for power production reasons. How much more justified it would be to build at last a diversion aiming to respond also to the population water needs and the St-Lawrence environment conservation.

F Pierre Gingras, November 2011, All Rights Reserved

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