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The Canadian Rivers Institute and the Mactaquac Project

May 5 2016, 15:19 PM

The Canadian Rivers Institute and the Mactaquac Project

We have a big decision to make about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station. The station is nearing the end of its life, and NB Power is considering what to do next. Whatever is decided will have a big impact on the environment and the people who live and work near the station. That’s why NB Power is working with experts and the public to find out what those impacts might be, and how to lessen them.

Under the guidance of top scientists, the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES) examines the Saint John River above, around and below the dam at Mactaquac Generating Station to support NB Power with science-based information.

Dr. Allen Curry, Science Director at the Canadian Rivers Institute, points out some key aspects about the project in this week’s blog post.

What is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study?

It’s a multi-year project and the first in-depth study of its kind of the Saint John River and unique in this sense among studies of large Canadian rivers. It’s divided into three phases: Phase 1 (now until 2017), Phase 2 (during the Environmental Impact Assessment [link to CER blog] and followed work at the station) and Phase 3: (after construction or drawdown.)

Our university-based team includes professional scientists and engineers from different disciplines including biology, geology and engineering, field and computer technicians, and more than 50 students.  We are presently working on more than 30 different studies that examine the whole river ecosystem, fish passage and environmental flow in the Saint John River.

What is the goal of the MAES?

The goal of Phase 1 of MAES is to establish a thorough characterization of the river and headpond to improve our understanding of the ecosystem in these areas and to use various models to predict changes to the ecosystem under each of the options.  This information will be used to inform NB Power and to support our own scientific research.

How large is the study area compared to the river?

The Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study area stretches from the Tobique River headwaters to the estuary in Saint John, though some of the projects focus on study areas that are smaller and more focused on a particular issue.

What exactly are you looking at when you look at the river as a whole?

Our reason for undertaking a whole river ecosystem study is to attempt to understand, to the best of our ability, the full extent of how the MGS has affected the ecosystem of the SJR to date and to predict the likely changes of the options on the whole river ecosystem.  This is different than the typical approach of limiting the study to smaller sections of a river as is commonly done due to the time and financial constraints of collecting sufficient data over large areas.   The whole river ecosystem approach also attempts to bring together biological and ecological information, like fish and plant communities, with physical and chemical information like water and sediment quality and river flows in such a way that the information can be considered together when characterizing the river ecosystem and making predictions about its future. 

Dams are infrastructures that block natural fish passage in a river. How are you studying fish passage for Mactaquac?

We have reviewed existing literature, hosted an expert workshop to discuss global views on fish passage for multiple species, and visited with other experts in areas where dams have been removed. With the data collected via fish tags [link to Austin’s blog], the team will also study individual species including the Atlantic salmon, Striped bass, Sturgeons, American eel and Muskellunge.  For example, our study of Atlantic salmon looks at all life stages of migration (adults upstream and downstream, and smolts downstream) and considers not just the dam as a potential barrier to passage, but also the large and lake-like headpond.

Why is the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study so important?

The Saint John River flows 673 kilometers from the woods of northern Maine into the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. It is the second longest river in eastern North America and supports the greatest diversity of aquatic plants and animals in eastern Canada, including 15 at-risk species. 

Our collective understanding of how dams affect river ecosystems has improved greatly since the original construction of the dam.  There is an opportunity with the Mactaquac Project to reverse some of the adverse changes that have occurred during the time since its construction through the removal of the dam, or to improve the design and operation of a new dam such that the whole-river ecosystem is improved compared to the present.  Such opportunities should not be taken lightly, or done without sufficient consideration of the best data using state-of-the-art science and engineering methods and models.  We believe that MAES is vital to NB Power making a well-informed decision that provides maximum benefit to the state of the Saint John River ecosystem and that this will in turn be a benefit to all who live within its vast watershed. 

Electrical Safety at home- know where the dangers are

April 28 2016, 11:45 AM

Electrical Safety at home- know where the dangers are

We all want to make sure we do everything in our control to prevent accidents and reduce the risk of injury to ourselves and our families. Reminding ourselves of the little things is one way we can help reduce the risk of electrical fires in our homes.  NB Power spoke to the Fredericton Fire Department Deputy Chief David McKinley to gain some insight into common causes of house fires and the little things people can do to avoid them.

Let’s start with the basics.

Check your smoke detectors.  Be sure to have one on every level of your house and change the batteries every six months. If you burn wood or have propane or natural gas for a heat source, make sure you have a Carbon Monoxide detectors installed with digital display.

Another way to help reduce preventable accidents is to buy appliances that are approved by the Canadian Standards Association. That way, you know you’re buying a product certified to applicable standards.

Just want to get the laundry finished and out of the way? Many house fires start with overloaded washers and dryers. Overloading either appliance will burn out the motor or cause an equipment failure.  Keep the lint trap clean on your dryer and never operate the washer or dryer when you are leaving home.

Be careful not to plug too many devices into one outlet. It could result in heat building up in the wires, which could lead to a fire. Pay attention to any discoloration around the plug-ins (receptacle) on the wall. This could also be noticeable if there is a burning smell coming from appliances.  This is an indicator there is a problem with the wiring. You should have this checked by a certified electrician immediately.  

Drapes and furniture should not be near portable heaters, or irons or other appliances that heat up as they could ignite and cause a fire.

Keep a multipurpose fire extinguisher in an accessible location and know how to use it. (Remember PASSPull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the trigger and Sweep back and forth at the base of the fire)

The National Fire Code requires that we make repairs or replace any broken outlet plates or frayed cords that expose wiring.  It’s also important not to use extension cords as a permanent wiring solution.  These are temporary solutions only and should never be covered up under a rug. Foot traffic will ruin the cords and could potentially cause a fire. 

Outside, a reminder is to stay clear of power lines when working or playing nearby.

Look up and check for overhead wires before using a ladder or trimming trees or bushes on your property. 

Look down. Buried power lines and natural gas lines can be at various depths.  Make sure underground wires are marked before doing any digging. Call us: 1 800 663 6272.

If ever you see a downed power line call 911 and stay at least one pole length away. Never touch anyone or anything in contact with a downed wire. Even if a power line is down it could still be energized.

 

What do you do in your home to keep your family safe from electrical accidents and fires? Share your tips with us in the comments section below!

 

People, Nature, Economy: How NB Power studies the impacts of the future of Mactaquac

April 22 2016, 09:43 AM

NB Power studies impacts of Mactaquac

We have a big decision to make about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station. The station is nearing the end of its life, and NB Power is considering what to do next. Whatever is decided will have a big impact on the environment and the people who live and work near the station. That’s why NB Power is working with experts and the public to find out what those impacts might be, and how to lessen them. NB Power will recommend a path forward in 2016.

NB Power has committed to two reports that will help determine the impacts each option for Mactaquac can have on people, the environment and the economy. One is the Social Impact Comparative Review, which studies the social consequences – intended and unintended, positive and negative – of planned developments. The other, the Comparative Environmental Review, examines how each of the potential future options for Mactaquac might affect people, the economy and the environment. It also looks into how each impact could be minimized in such a way to make each option environmentally acceptable. NB Power will use these two reports and several ongoing studies to guide its decision regarding the preferred option for Mactaquac. 

The Social Impact Comparative Review (SICR) 

The SICR has already 15 key issues of concern, five of them relate directly to construction, while the remaining ten might be a consequence of drawing done the headpond. While the SICR mostly looks at communities around the headpond, it also studies the effect each option could have on tourism and recreation. 

The SICR analyzes impacts that include changes to:

  •          People’s way of life,
  •          their culture,
  •          their community,
  •          their interaction with their environment,
  •          their health and well-being,
  •          their personal and property rights, and
  •          their aspirations for their community. 

The Comparative Environmental Review (CER)

The CER is the first process of its kind ever undertaken in New Brunswick. It is a unique undertaking led by NB Power in consultation with an external committee of experts. It is a voluntary process, not a legal requirement. It is a transparent and robust way of gathering information.

The CER examines 13 aspects of the environment that have scientific, social, cultural, economic, historical, archeological, or aesthetic value to society. This list (which you can find on page 8 here) was created with help from stakeholders and the public. 

These key issues of concern would be required to be assessed under a formal environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the preferred option, once it has been selected. The EIA is a legal requirement for certain development projects, due to their potential environmental, social and socio-economic repercussions. In most cases, the EIA process is the first and only opportunity to study the impacts of a large project. 

Send your feedback to the Mactaquac Project team

Anyone can contribute to the final reports on impacts on New Brunswickers, the environment and the economy. NB Power is welcoming comments from the public to make sure all potential issues are uncovered before a decision is made. You can submit comments on either report before May 31, 2016.

What do you think? What impacts are the most important aspect of the Mactaquac Project for you, social, environmental or economical? Tell us about it in the comments below. 

The Smith home : a net zero, net metered house in Sackville, NB

April 14 2016, 12:36 PM

The Smith home

Blaine and Heather Smith had a vision when they searched for the perfect spot to build their home near Sackville, NB, back in 1988. The vision was of a sun-filled home with a very small energy footprint. To realize this dream, they chose a house plan with many east and south facing windows to passively heat the home. They installed high levels of insulation throughout and made it air-tight by carefully considering all the construction details to make sure the home would have very low air leakage rates.  

Fast forward to 2012 when the Smiths decided to take this vision one step further and turned their home “net zero.” First Heather and Blaine installed:

  • an air source heat pump;
  • a solar hot water system;
  • a drain water heat recovery system
  • added R-40 insulation in the ceiling

 The cherry on top – of the home, in this case- was the array of solar panels set up on the roof to offset their electricity consumption.  

Thanks to the careful attention to detail and energy efficiency in the construction of the home, the Smiths’ pre-upgrade EnerGuide rating was not bad at 78, but the upgrades resulted in an impressive post-upgrade assessment rating of 90. Orienting their home for sun-filled rooms back in 1988 also paid off -- that decision made their home ‘solar ready.’ It was well positioned to add solar panels and generate energy onsite.

After installing 24 Solar World SW235 Mono V2.0 panels, combining for a total of 5.6 kilowatts capacity, the home now produces as much energy as it uses from the solar panels (on a yearly basis.) This makes it a net zero home. In addition to being net zero, the home is net metered with NB Power for the times when the panels don’t produce enough energy to meet current demand. Credits accumulate for the homeowners when a surplus of power is generated and put back on the grid.

The Smiths were smart to take a whole home approach and to carry out energy efficient upgrades first. It lowered their baseline energy use, making it easier for their solar panel system to meet their energy demands in the run of an average day. By choosing to net-meter with NB Power, they could size the solar system to meet their average daily usage, rather than on a peak energy use day.

For the Smiths, that’s the great benefit to being “grid tied” --their solar panel system is sized for average usage, rather than their peak.

 “We like knowing that 100 per cent of the excess power we produce is used within our neighbourhood,” the Smiths said. ”Aside from the money saved, it is satisfying to do what you can as an individual towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

“Our experience with the net metering program has raised our awareness of our energy consumption and the potential to generate electricity through the seasons,” said Blaine and Heather Smith. “NB Power and our installer (Fundy Solar) led us through the process.” 

“We all use energy daily,” said Heather. “Getting started with meeting your own energy needs is exciting and empowering.”

Want to learn more about the Smith home? Read the Case Study which details their journey and decisions in making their home net zero here.

Would you consider generating wind or solar power at your home and net metering?  Tell us about it below.

First Nations field monitor Austin Paul reports from the Saint John River

April 8 2016, 14:22 PM

First Nations field monitor Austin Paul reports from the Saint John River

Austin Paul is an anthropology student at the University of New Brunswick and works with NB Power on the Mactaquac Project. In this guest blog post, Austin will describe more of the activities he was involved in as the First Nations Liaison Field Monitor from writing summary reports for NB Power and First Nations communities to tagging fish with the Canadian Rivers Institute.

During the summer of 2015, I spent most of my days outdoors and worked closely with the Canadian Rivers Institute who conducts various studies in and along the river, this included tagging fish for active and passive fish monitoring.

For active monitoring, the Canadian Rivers Institute scientists place hydrophones in the water that detect tagged fish, which are identified with a unique identification number. For passive monitoring, the scientists have also placed electronic receivers throughout the Saint John River that record where tagged fish pass by. All this collected data will be analyzed and included in NB Power’s Comparative Environmental Review.

To tag a fish, the caught fish is sedated in a solution of fresh water, clove oil and ethanol. Once it is unresponsive to touch, we measure and weigh it. We would also collect scale samples and fin clips for genetic studies. Through a small sterilized surgery, tags are inserted in its stomach cavity and below the dorsal fin. The fish is then placed back into a recovery tank with fresh water before being released back into the river. 

The Wolastoq (Saint John) River is exceedingly important to the First Nations communities.  The river was a natural highway linking many communities throughout the province.  The Wolastoq is greatly respected and thought of as the blood of mother earth. It nourishes the soil and provides sustenance to the people who inhabit the river valley. We are intimately linked to the river.   

For thousands of years, the First Nations people have used the river as a means of travel and established communities along its banks.  Many traces of these communities remain present on the landscape in the form of archaeological sites.  Nearly every river junction and island is host to archaeological sites both large and small.  Many of the artifacts that erode out of the river banks show evidence of excellent craftsmanship and are often made from material that is non-local, demonstrating a vast interaction sphere.  People acquired tool stone from as far north as Ramah Bay Labrador and as far south as the Ohio River Valley. 

These archaeological sites are sacred to the Wolastoqiyik people. When studied, the sites provide a glimpse into the distant past that allows us to form a clearer picture of the ancient way of life and cultural changes over time.  The evidence seems to demonstrate that First Nations communities were highly adaptable to the ever changing environment and enjoyed a rich culture.

 

The information attained through archaeological record is invaluable.  First Nations communities were decimated by diseases brought from Europe, of which the Native population had little immunity.  A great deal of the oral history that had been passed down from generation to generation was lost as many of the elders perished.  It is now through the study of archaeological sites that we are able to gain an appreciation of the remote past.

NB Power’s First Nation engagement commitments are based on inclusion, responsiveness and respect.

As a first Nations Liaison Field Monitor, it is also my responsibility to identify potential First Nations concerns in terms of land use, resource sites and archeological sites. I created a communications plan with the local First Nations to ensure that the information collected is available to those who are interested in it and supported the Mactaquac Project team at the various open house sessions that have been hosted in towns and First Nation communities. 

These sessions were designed to provide further opportunities for community members to voice their concerns and ideas regarding the Mactaquac Project. 

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