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Cumulative Effects on Human Health within the Hydroelectric Sector: A Case Study of Manitoba Hydro



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The construction and operation of hydroelectric projects consist of multiple activities in a single watershed, which can generate significant impacts on the surrounding biophysical environment and on the health and well-being of local communities. The impacts of those activities may be insignificant individually, yet together may have an important cumulative effect. The impacts of hydroelectric development on human health and well-being have been widely documented. Current practices of cumulative effects assessment (CEA), however, as conducted under project-based environmental assessment (EA), often fail to address the deeper issues of human health and social well-being. This thesis was developed to examine how health effects, including cumulative health effects, are considered within regulatory EA practices in the hydroelectric sector in Manitoba. This was achieved by reviewing the EAs of three recent hydroelectric projects –Wuskwatim Generating Station, Bipole III Transmission Project, and Keeyask Hydroelectric Generating Station – located in the Nelson River watershed in northern Manitoba. Results indicate that the consideration of human health issues in EA has gradually improved over time; however, the assessment of health impacts was invariably limited to physical health components and often lacked due consideration of broader social health issues. The inadequacy of the practice of health impact assessment (HIA) was also evident by the lack of health-related indicators and the poor consistency in the use of indicators across projects and over time for measuring and predicting changes in the health conditions of the communities due to project development. An in-depth analysis regarding the assessment of cumulative health effects was carried out in the CEA of the most recent hydroelectric development – the Keeyask project. The findings show that cumulative health effects were not adequately considered in each of the basic components of CEA – scoping, retrospective analysis, prospective analysis, and management measures. Improving the consideration of health in EA requires paying more attention to broader range of health determinants, including both biophysical and social determinants and their interconnectedness in EA. Moreover, there is a need to improve greater consistency in the use of health indicators across projects and over time. It can be assisted by developing standardized terms of reference (ToR) for project proponents to ensure the consideration and monitoring of those indicators used for development projects built within the same geographic region and affecting the same communities and environments. Approaching cumulative health effects in a more regional and strategic framework of CEA, beyond the scale of individual projects, is likely to provide the best mechanism to understand and monitor the cumulative impacts of project development on the health and well-being of the affected communities.



cumulative effects assessment, human health, hydroelectric development, northern Manitoba



Master of Arts (M.A.)


Geography and Planning




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