Kenney Dam, British Columbia, Canada

Washed Away: Kenney Dam flooded Chelsetta lands and villages to produce hydropower for Alcan's (now Rio Tinto's) aluminium smelter. In 1950 the government invited Alcan to explore the potential of sites around the country for hydroelectricity.


In 1928, the provincial government of British Columbia sent engineers to study the lakes in Northern BC to produce an estimate as to how much hydro power could be obtained from the region. The government then invited Alcan (the Aluminum Company of Canada), now Rio Tinto, to develop the region and mine the ore. In 1948, in response to the invitation, Alcan sent experts to study the region. Two years later, Alcan and the provincial government signed an agreement that would last 44 years. This agreement essentially gave the land rights to Alcan for them to produce low cost hydroelectricity for the aluminum smelter they were going to build as well as purchase additional land at hugely reduced prices. Along with the smelter, the project would include a dam and a reservoir.          

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Basic Data
NameKenney Dam, British Columbia, Canada
ProvinceBritish Columbia
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe original project was approved and completed in the 1950s. There was an expansion project applied for in 2014. This project consisted of the completion of Tunnel two (T2) which would permit Rio Tinto to not only produce more hydroelectricity for their smelter but also permit them to temporarily close Tunnel one (T1) to administer repairs. According to Rio Tinto’s General Manager for BC Works, Gareth Manderson, Tunnel one (T1) has been assessed by five experts who estimate that the Tunnel has between a 20% and 50% chance of collapsing by 2021 and that more and more rocks are being caught in the rock trap. The rock trap is what prevents loose rocks from entering the turbines. However, without Tunnel two (T2), the only way to administer repairs would be to close the Tunnel which would cut off all power to the aluminum smelter. This project was estimated to cost approximately $473.6 million. The Tunnel when completed will be 16 km long and seeing as 8.4 km was built back in the 1950s, there is approximately 7.6 km remaining. Additionally, in favour for Rio Tinto, this expansion project does not require a surplus of water than what was allocated to them in their license. Furthermore, according to Manderson, the construction will be completed by Tutor Perini Corporation who will also refurbish the existing 8.4 km of the Tunnel. The work is estimated to start very soon (second quarter of 2018), if it has not already started and for the complete project to be completed by 2020. The company is currently waiting for a custom drill to arrive from Germany. It is expected to arrive in Fall 2018 and for the drilling to start in the winter. All of the permits and licenses have been approved and construction should begin shortly.
Level of Investment (in USD)473,600,000
Type of PopulationUnknown
Potential Affected Population162-332
Start Date29/12/1950
Company Names or State EnterprisesBC Hydro (BC Hydro) from Canada
Rio Tinto Alcan (Rio Tinto) from Canada
Relevant government actorsBC Hydro

BC New Democratic Party

BC Liberal Party
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersThe Rivers Defence Coalition (the Coalition)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Prior to the Alcan development, non-native settlement in the region was sparse, consisting mainly of those pioneers who moved into the region in the early 1900s .... However, the Kitimat Valley had been inhabited by the people of the Haisla nation, a Kwakiutl Indian language-group, many years prior to Alcan's arrival.
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Noise pollution
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
OtherCultural values impacted. Cemeteries flooded and bones unearthed.
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of AlternativesThere has only been one alternative proposed over the years and that was the additional spillway proposed by the Cheslatta. Unfortunately the proposal did not go very far mostly due to Rio Tinto. Hopefully in the future, this proposal will re-emerge with more success.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.This is not a success story because although steps have been made towards reconciliation no real outcome has been reached. Despite the settlement in 1993 and the agreement in 2016, more work needs to be done. The Cheslatta Carrier Nation continue to bear the brunt of the original project of the 1950s which was built without their knowledge or consultation. Their lands have been taken away from them and there is no way they can get them back. Furthermore, the agreement signed in 2016 was never examined further and I believe this is due to the change in government.
Sources and Materials


Citation: Saik’uz First Nation and Stellat’en First Nation v. Rio Tinto Alcan Inc., 2015 BCCA 154
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Community Profile: Cheslatta Carrier Nation
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Kemano water tunnel to be completed 20 years later
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Province working towards settlement with Cheslatta Over Kenney Dam
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Cheslatta Carrier Nation - Connectivity Profile
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Cheslatta Carrier Nation Apply For Kenney Dam Water Licence
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Kemano: second tunnel completion set for 2018
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Partners on a healing journey
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Rio Tinto to complete Kemano Second Tunnel Project
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Alcan Incorporated
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Kenney Dam
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55 Years of History from The Workers’ Voices
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Kitimat / Kemano
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UPDATE: US-$473 million Kemano second tunnel project gets the go-ahead
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Kemano: second tunnel completion set for 2018
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Impacts of the Kenney Dam
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Duty to consult and accomodate
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How the West Coast Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund has used the law to protect BC’s environment for 20 years
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Media Links

CKPG News - Cheslatta Agreement - Mark Villani
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Kenney Dam Spillway
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This Week in History Season 2 Episode 12 - Kenney Dam
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Partners on a healing journey
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A History of Kitimat-Kemano Project
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
ContributorBishop's University
Last update22/07/2018