Rafferty-Alameda dams had more politics than science

ESTEVAN, Sask. – On a windy, rainy day in May, George Hood took a swim in the water behind Rafferty Dam – naked.

Days earlier he had done the same thing at Alameda Dam.

For him the bone-chilling swims were a catharsis, and the end of the Rafferty-Alameda controversy. From 1985 to 1991 Hood served with the Souris Basin Development Authority – the branch of SaskPower which controlled the dam projects.

In Estevan May 12, he launched his chronicle of “the bizarre events that became Rafferty-Alameda.”

Against the Flow, Rafferty-Alameda and the Politics of the Environment, tells the non-partisan story, Hood said at a news conference.

“I have been as hard on the Devine Conservatives as I have been on the NDP and, I might add, just as hard as I am on myself,” he said.

The book tells “how a small and relatively benign water project built in an arid part of the continent, and in the middle of the most severe drought of the past century and where dozens of other similar projects exist, was propelled to national prominence.”

Hood said while many think the political controversy started with the project’s announcement in 1986, it actually began in the mid-1970s.

He cites Blakeney government papers which show some cabinet members were concerned “not about the potential environmental impacts of flood control on the Souris River, but about the potential partisan benefits that would accrue to Conservatives from the Estevan area.

“Government records from this era also indicate that the Rafferty project was a feasible and logical possibility.”

Hood said the environmental aspects of the project took second place to the politics. Some claims made by special interest and environmental groups have never been proven, he said. But the success of these groups shows how powerful they can be.

“People will say anything about these kinds of projects in order to make them controversial,” he said, citing claims that 40,000 acres of wetlands, 2,000 acres of forest, 2,500 white-tailed deer and 15,000 ducks would be lost. There weren’t 2,000 acres of forest in the entire Rafferty Reservoir area, the book points out.

Hood also talks about problems with provincial environmental regulators.

He said when short-comings were pointed out by the SBDA, the province let the project “take the heat even though it was the regulatory bodies of the provincial government that were at fault.”

Using the benefit of hindsight, Hood said the authority should have struck an independent position early on.

To people who opposed the Alameda project in court, Hood said he holds no animosity.

“They were just exercising their democratic rights.”

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