NPR logo

Hydro-Electric Project To Reshape Wilderness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hydro-Electric Project To Reshape Wilderness


Hydro-Electric Project To Reshape Wilderness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


America's hunger for energy is transforming wild landscapes all over the world. In Northern Canada, the massive Rupert River is being is being dammed and diverted to generate hydroelectric power for people in the U.S.

Reporter Brian Mann paddled the river this summer as part of a public radio documentary project called Encounters.

BRIAN MANN: Our first day on the river, we crossed paths with a young caribou swimming below a churning rapid.

We're paddling through a kind of a swirling great (unintelligible) and the caribou can hear my voice. And he's checking us out as we draw near. I could see her frosty fur, dark black eyes.

The Rupert River valley is one of the wildest places in North America.

Mr. PHIL ROYCE (Geologist, St. Lawrence University): Easy, easy, now left.

MANN: My paddling partner is Phil Royce, a geologist and a river guide with St. Lawrence University. He's a thin guy with a bristly black beard.

Mr. ROYCE: Left, left, draw left. Hang on. Good.

MANN: Phil has been paddling these northern rivers for more than a decade. But the Rupert is huge. It takes all his skill to maneuver our slender canoe down a shifting maze of boulders and ledges.

Mr. ROYCE: What you're hearing right now is the absolute full rage of this river, racing so fast that the foam is piling up two and three stories high.

MANN: In places, the river sprawls half a mile from bank to bank. A Canadian agency called Hydro-Quebec plans to harness about 60 percent of this water, funneling it north into an existing complex of dams and reservoirs. The scale of the project is breathtaking. Hydro-Quebec is literally reshaping a region of rivers and forests the size of Colorado. Phil says this is a landscape that has existed since the last Ice Age.

Mr. ROYCE: Ten to 13,000 years ago, the rivers formed. The major course usually stays the same within human time as long as some people don't dam them and divert them, then they change radically.

MANN: I asked Phil to imagine what the new manmade version of this river will look like, but he shakes his head.

Mr. ROYCE: Everything will change along this river corridor.

MANN: This isn't a story about a fierce environmental fight. The political wrangling over the Rupert River is over. Green groups who opposed Hydro-Quebec have given up and gone home. The Cree Indians signed a treaty allowing the project to go forward. In exchange, they'll receive hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. With the diversion set for next year, Phil and I just wanted to see this place firsthand.

On a hazy, blue morning, we round a bend of the river and spot a gray wolf pacing the bank.

(Soundbite of wolf howling)

MANN: As we drift past, the wolf slips away into the alders. The benefits of this project for Hydro-Quebec and its customers will be huge. After 2009, billions of dollars worth of low-carbon electricity generated by the Rupert River will power street lights and refrigerators across the Northeastern U.S. and Canada without adding to the world's greenhouse gases.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.