WWF-Canada Blog:

St. John River – restoring this complex system requires a holistic view and long-term commitment

By Simon J. Mitchell

NB Power’s recent announcement that the Mactaquac Dam is to be refurbished, rebuilt or decommissioned has provided a new timeline under which we can collectively imagine the future of the St. John River.  It is a catalyst along with a number of other known issues, which were identified by the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) in The Saint John River: A State of the Environment Report, for a discussion on the future health of the St. John River system.

The goal of WWF-Canada’s Living Rivers initiative is to help protect and restore river health across the country. Projects under the initiative are underway in a number of watersheds across Canada, including the Skeena, Athabasca, St. Lawrence and St. John rivers. Our work is ecosystem and science based, rather than issue specific.  The St. John River is the latest project under the Living Rivers initiative; we decided to focus our efforts on the St. John because we see a real opportunity to play a part in shaping the future of the river and to share this wonderful story with others in the region and others across this river nation who are struggling with many of the same complex issues.

(C)  Robert Rangeley- WWF Canada

We believe that to have robust solutions to protecting and restoring river health requires reasoned and ongoing dialogue among governments, industry, NGOs and communities that is informed and guided by the best science we have or can generate.  This is exactly why we engaged in the November 2011 community tour along the St. John River, where we heard a range of concerns, from various perspectives, related to a number of issues in the watershed.  Our engagement in the St. John River means listening and working with all interested parties along the river to address its health, and ultimately providing science and community based input into the decision making processes that will shape the future of the dam and the river.  This won’t be an easy task and there will be some difficult times ahead as we move through this process. We recognize that there are a range of options related to the future of the Mactaquac Dam, and that the best option is the one that improves the health of the river and the communities that depend on it.

Thankfully, we have some time on our side. With a strong science basis and plenty of engagement, we can collectively develop robust solutions to move the St. John River further along its restoration trajectory.    It is our commitment to the watershed community and to the river that we will continue to engage with those who are interested in contributing to this effort towards a positive future for the river, its people and nature.

(C)  Robert Rangeley- WWF Canada

  • I have just returned from a visit to New Brunswick, where my colleagues and I had constructive discussions with some concerned individuals around WWF’s St. John River Project. I look forward to continuing the great dialogue we started with these folks and expanding that to all members of the community who have an interest in our project.

    I‘d like to take this opportunity to apologize for any concerns caused by the documentary film Take Me to the River. For a number of reasons, WWF is ending our involvement with this film project. The success of our work is measured in terms of healthier ecosystems supporting thriving communities, and that is where we need to focus our effort. Our priority isn’t to make films but to have an impact on conservation across the country. The film project was intended to raise the profile of complex issues facing our rivers across the country and we are sorry that it is has raised concerns about WWF’s work and intentions on the St. John River. We apologize to anyone this piece of film has offended.

    As we look to the new year, our man on the river, Simon Mitchell, along with our friends from the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) at UNB, will be holding a public meeting in the Mactaquac headpond region at the end of January – check back soon for the exact date and location. That meeting will provide an opportunity to hear about the work of CRI researchers as it relates to the health of the whole St. John River system, and to engage in an open dialogue about the what their findings means for the future of the river and the people who depend on it.

    We look forward to taking this next step forward in 2013. Happy Holidays!

  • As a concerned New Brunswick Citizen and Conservation Minded individual I propose that the authorities look at the Atlantic Salmon population that enter and reside in all waterways of New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada and also act to introduce and enforce legislation to stop the methods of catch and release of all Atlantic Salmon in New Brunswick Rivers and Tributaries due to the heavy drop off in population numbers.
    I ask that Atlantic Salmon be included into the PROTECTED SPECIES ACT of New Brunswick and all future catch and release policies be amended to save the further decline and decimation of the species. Over 3000 Catch and Release Salmon licenses were issued in 2012.
    If we allowed any individual to take aim and shoot Bald Eagle or Polar Bears in the mouth for sport and then allowed the same Bald Eagle or Polar Bear to be released back into the Environment then this would be of concern. Obviously the harm and injuries inflicted upon the “target” is not only problematic but certainly a contributing factor to their decline and well being and is an act of cruelty. One Salmon may be hooked more than once in a given day or many times while they are in the River system. Salmon are a heavy fighting fish and they only have one mouth. The percentage of survival after this damage is low.
    Why do we continue to allow the catch and release of Atlantic Salmon?
    I leave this decision to be made by those with the Experience and Authority.
    I am driven by the population figures now showing we must act before further harm is done.
    I also ask that this review is shown to be an open process carried out by an independent panel of experts and not be a closed door agenda.
    Pete Mossman
    Mactaquac Lake
    New Brunswick

  • To the WWF and Interested Public,
    It is with great pleasure to reannounce my faith in the WWF of Canada on their efforts regarding the SAINT JOHN RIVER RESTORATION PROJECT in New Brunswick.
    The Mactaquac Lake Community at large had some issues pertaining to the Mactaquac Dam and the approach that was taken in furthering the conversation of Decommissioning this important New Brunswick Hydro Electric Energy Provider and draining the Mactaquac Lake.
    I would like the general Public to know that the WWF has been open and have listened to the community at large allowing us to move forward and therefore inviting us all to become working partners in the future of the iconic SAINT JOHN RIVER and LAKES that give us all so much pleasure and are a large part of who we are.
    Mactaquac Lake is the true BALANCE OF PEOPLE AND NATURE and it is up to every one of us as tennats of New Brunswick to stand up and support the WWF and RBC in future restoration that will allow us to leave a lasting legacy for our children and our childrens children.
    The WORLD WILDLIFE FUND has earned my personal support and now it is your turn, PEOPLE OF NEW BRUNSWICK, to show your passion and show Canada HOW MUCH WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY, OUR PROVINCE, OUR COUNTRY AND LOVE THE NATURE AND WILDLIFE THAT CALL THIS HOME.
    Become a WWF and SAINT JOHN RIVER supporter for “water is the life provider”.
    WWF, I am in your service.
    SAINT JOHN RIVER RESTORATION – together we can all “GET IT RIGHT”.

  • WWF’s focus on the St. John River is to work with all communities, landowners, rights holders, government agencies and other stakeholders along the river and tributaries in a way that fosters constructive and open dialogue, to develop a shared vision to improve the overall health of the river. For that to happen, we need to ensure communities along the entire river and tributaries have a voice, and their concerns are factored into a broader conversation about what kind of river we want, today and for our children and grandchildren. Concerns have been raised about the community engagement process to date in the Mactaquac Lake region. WWF is committed to meeting with the community to discuss these concerns in the very near future, as well as to ongoing dialogue throughout the duration of the project, in the context of overall river and ecosystem health, social and economic considerations, and the growing demand for renewable energy and low-carbon alternatives.

    And because climate change is the most serious problem facing all life on earth, WWF has set an ambitious but necessary global goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. We believe Canada can and must do our part to reach that goal, which will require significant investment in all forms of green energy, combined with aggressive energy efficiency and smart planning, to ensure that we develop energy resources to meet future demand in ways that work for nature and people.

  • Peter Mossman

    I support your opinion Alex backed by strong use of common sense.
    It is a start toward better education to communicate.
    You got it – opinion.
    Give it right here.
    I trust “THEY” are listening ?
    Check out the information on this website supporting “GREEN ENERGY”.
    Support it by action WWF and we will support your lead with ACTION.
    You say by year 2050 and we need year 2020 in N.B.
    Mactaquac wants to lead Canada in “GREEN ENERGY”

  • alex macdonald

    It’s hard to imagine a good rationale for removing the dams on the Saint John River.

    Let’s talk fish. The salmon have free run in the Restigouche and the Miramichi, but their numbers are a fraction of what they once were before international fishing fleets perfected their techniques of plunder. Why would the Saint John be different?

    Let’s talk money. The dam generates an irreplaceable revenue stream for a province sparsely populated and deeply in debt. Maybe WWF wants our province to become more impoverished and depopulated. Maybe WWF wants New Brunswick to become be a natural preserve for the RBC board of directors and the rest of the Bay Street Boys who fly in on corporate jets and fish salmon twice a year. Maybe they’ll invite their new pals from the WWF along. But seriously, replacing such a major revenue stream, is not a trivial undertaking.

    Back to the dam, which also acts as a buffering resevoir, moderating the effects of spring floods. Has anyone else noticed the increasingly intense rainfalls we have been experiencing in this watershed in recent years? What will protect downstream users, and I wonder if EMO has any thoughts about the costs and damages caused by increased flooding.

    We live in a world of energy needs, even here in our rustic province. What would we substitute for “clean” hydro power, and how much would we have to pay for it? Can we simply jack up the nuclear outputs and keep the radioactive rods in RBC’s vault? Increased nuclear should sound bonkers to the real greens among us.

    Are we to burn more coal, or does the question suggest the answer? Wind and solar? Orders of magnitude more expensive, as well as sporadic in generation.

    There does need to be careful thought about the economic costs and benefits of changing the status quo, but the bottom line is this. Big environment is pairing with big money, and the little people of New Brunswick better beware.

    Alex Macdonald

  • We agree with you Rob……and at least someone at WWF agree’s as well.
    Check this link:

  • Rob Kitchen

    I’m confused by this, are we not trying to promote green and renewable energy ? What better source then the Mactaquac Dam ? I spoke in length to a worker at the damn and he told me it was one of the most efficient power producers NB Power had. It can be shut down when power isn’t needed and started back up on a moment’s notice. We just dumped 3 billion dollars in to point Lepreau, which still has a short shelf life comparatively speaking but we questioning rebuilding this. WWF and Royal Bank are off my donation and affiliation lists

  • Andre

    The goal of WWF-Canada’s Living Rivers initiative is to help protect and restore river health. To help restore the St-John river, why not focus on pollution and polluters from Northern NB to St-John. That would go a long way in protecting the river’s health and make so much sense for all New Brunswickers (a win-win scenario for WWF and citizens). However any talk of draining Mactaquac Head pond, it just doesn’t add up. Like the Friends of Mactaquac Lake, WWF must look through a wider lens and protect the whole ecosystem, livelihoods, economic benefits and quality of life that are built around, are developing still and flourish on and around Mactaquac Head pond. – And please stop with the whole salmon viewpoint. People are not stupid!


    05 OCT 2012 05:09PM
    What is a natural environment?
    That is the question being raised as some environmentalists advocate for the return of the St. John River to its natural level and course if the expanding concrete-prone Mactaquac dam is removed.
    But many of the property owners who now line the Mactaquac head pond are calling for the lake behind the dam to be preserved.
    In our opinion they are correct.
    The Mactaquac head pond has been in place for more than 40 years and is now a valuable natural habitat. It provides a beautiful place for people to enjoy boating and fishing and adjacent property owners, the two Mactaquac marinas and the Mactaquac Provincial Park are all dependent on the head pond in its current form. Access to such a magnificent recreational resource is very important in our stressful 21st century.
    We can’t turn back the clock to the time before the head pond flooded large stretches of land up to Woodstock and beyond.
    Remember, the dam itself is not at risk.
    It is the concrete used to build the power house and the structure around the lift gates and sluiceways that leads to the turbines that is slowly expanding, despite NB Power’s efforts to reduce the pressure with a concrete cutting program. In other words, it is the moving parts that are having problems.
    As a newspaper. we have already taken the editorial position that NB Power should refurbish the Mactaquac dam even if it costs more than $2 billion.
    Hydro-electric power has too many pluses — both environmental and economic — to ignore.
    A group called the Friends of Mactaquac Lake, which bills itself as a newly formed citizen action group advocating for the preservation and sustainability of the beautiful Mactaquac Lake, have set up a Facebook page to oppose any push to eliminate the head pond.
    In a letter, the friends decry the nascent environmental campaign because it “portrays the St. John River in a most negative light which is harmful to tourism as well as property values along the river.”
    Some of the members of the Friends of Mactaquac Lake are former land owners who lost their properties when the head pond was created. The fact they now view the head pond as valuable speaks volumes.
    NB Power says it will make a decision on the fate of the dam as a power-generating facility by 2021.
    Even if the utility decides not to refurbish the power generating aspect of the dam, removing the entire dam and returning the river to its former level and course would be hugely expensive.
    “Mactaquac, which will require spending as early as 2021, would cost close to $2 billion to decommission and significantly more to refurbish,” says an NB Power report.
    Can this province really afford $2 billion just to decommission the dam, toss aside all that clean, cheap energy and drain the head pond?
    In our opinion, that would be a lose, lose, lose for New Brunswick.

  • Peter Mossman

    Simon Mitchell you live close to the Mactaquac Headpond and awake most mornings to look out of your window at the stunning views, enjoy the sound of Loons, the sight of Eagles, Water Fowl, Otters, Beavers, Weasels, Mink, Martens, Ducks, abundant Fish Species and many, many other creatures and plant life that have made this fine now flourishing waterway, Mactaquac Headpond, their home.
    Lucky you,
    I wish everyone in the world had such a variety of nature on their doorstep to enjoy and support and therefore understand why they are so very important to all life worldwide. That would make true Environmental Health and the efforts of the true Wildlife friendly charities so much easier.
    After reading your blogs and having seen the video being lobbied I ask if you and Tony Maas value this hidden agenda ALREADY in place by the WWF and the hard earned donated monies you are being paid as consultants, including that of the [hopefully unsuspecting] RBC, more than you value the environment, wildlife, established ecosystems, Green Energy and the well being of the Saint John River and your neighbours??
    I thought the WWF platform was ” to support building a future in which people and nature thrive” yet so many local people still await consultation up and down the Saint John River and are very upset you have neglected to include them beforehand.
    Have the staff and wage earners at the WWF become so wealthy they do not need our support?
    If so more fool those that have given hard earned donations in blind trust.
    In my opinion a major mistake has taken place to the detriment of every property owner and Wildlife Advocate Worldwide and if not acted upon and rectified publicly and in good faith then I believe we are all watching the start of the collapse of the WWF, and “the awakening” of those that donate in blind trust.
    I ask for openness and clarity from all parties involved before I donate another cent.
    Let the people “speak” and get “educated” as to all WWF intentions BEFORE they invest more to a seemingly sinking ship as there are so many other worthy “not for profit” environmentally minded organisations being left without that do work openly and put People, Nature and Wildlife first.
    Perhaps it is time for a new “Captain at the Helm” before it is too late.
    RIP WWF.

  • Glyn Norman

    As a proud Newfoundlander, now living on the beautiful Mactaquac water system, I am somewhat disconcerted that an organization such as the WWF would take such a plebeian approach towards the identification of a cause worthy of the funding they generate from millions of donors. Greenpeace has spent millions of dollars, raised from similar unsuspecting donors, to completely annihilate the seal industry, which supported a way of life for generations in Newfoundland & Labrador to the detriment of a once thriving cod fishery and the near extinction of dozens of outport communities They continue to make news causing similar destruction around the world while doing very little to promote a positive image when it is most needed. Mactaquac lake, home to dozens of wildlife species such as loon, eagle, water fowl, otter, beaver, weasel, mink,marten and many others which thrive on the fish species that have evolved over the forty five years since the dam construction, maintains a delicate balance between nature and the people who enjoy it. Why an organization such as yours, which is viewed as the epitome of preservation, would interfere with such an innate reality is somewhat of a mystery. Surely there are other more deserving causes which are desperate for the support of your hard earned dollars which could be rectified with little or no impact on the local inhabitants or is ours a more advantageous one?

  • Andrew O’Hara

    Nature is just fine on the Mactaquac Headpond above and below the dam. Stop playing with peoples homes, land, established nature habitats and Leave it be!

  • Jake McLean

    Well said Peter!
    My parents live on the headpond and went to the public meeting where over 200 got an eye opener when it was reveled what WWF and Conservation council were really up to. Most can hardly believe they would even try to drain our lake. You are right – they have too much money! And Royal Bank got sucked in for half a million.

  • Maria and Family

    no more $ from me good for you pete

  • Peter Mossman

    To All New Brunswick Residents,
    I ask you to stop donating your hard earned money to insitutions that will use it against you, your neighbours, your livelihood and your equity. Green energy is required to save our world from overuse of fossil fuels that destroys ecosystems, wildlife and enviroments. The message put out regarding the decommissioning of Mactaquac Dam will destroy most wildlife and the habitats they need to thrive. How can such a usually enviromental friendly organisation such as WWF be so hypocritical as to pay for the production of a biased video that condems the Mactaquac Dam. Surely this donated money should be utilized in a way that not only protects the enviroment but also the people that donate toward improvement.
    Someone must be taking a back hander to distribute such unfounded hypocritical garbage that misconstrues the facts and reality.An ounce of common sense is worth a to of brain. Find your common sense WWF before you loose all credibility and support. Stop the destruction or we stop the donations.

  • Fred Rankin

    Mr. Corbert,
    You have obviously never been on Mactaquac Lake. Difficult to comprehend how environmental donations can end up promoting the draining of lakes!

  • It’s already an environmental nightmare. Tom, quote your sources, please.

  • Thomas Neil

    How is it you folks finally found a decent picture of Mactaquac? After looking at the facebook and the movie it is clear what you people are in NB for. Draining the lake would be an environmental nightmare!