It sure gets crazy around here in The Nation office sometimes. We were hot on the trail of NASA last week, when suddenly we found ourselves asking the question: Just how safe are the dams?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if one of the dams broke? Is there a plan for getting everyone to safety?

What does NASA have to do with the dams, you ask? It turns out that NASA facility everyone is curious about at LG-1 is there to study the post-ice Age “rebound” of the land. Or so we were told. Don’t ask me why they have a telescope mounted on top.

Anyway, our question was: Is “rebound” of the land a danger to the dams? Apparently, it is not. But in the course of our investigation, we have learned a few other interesting things. Considering all the problems with floods we’ve seen in Quebec recently, there’s surprisingly little information available to the public about the safety of the dams or emergency situations.

Which isn’t very reassuring considering that Hydro-Quebec’s attempts to harvest nature have not always gone as predicted. Many unforeseen problems arose for HQ when its La Grande reservoirs were first filling up years ago. During construction of LG-1, HQ was forced to make a major last-minute redesign because of the instability of the clay bed of the river.

What’s more, the massive quantities of water in the reservoirs create such a weight that minor earthquakes have been reported as the land underneath sinks. It is so heavy, in fact, that the rotation of the Earth may be slowed and the day could be lengthened by a fraction of a second. Even more incredibly, the distance between the Earth and the Moon may be changed!

Hydro has never released to the Crees its studies of the safety of the dams. Communication is actually non-existent with the Crees on day-to-day issues of dam safety and security.

The lack of communication is so bad that when the reservoirs were first filled up, at least one trapper from Eastmain awoke to find water flooding into his teepee!

As we saw during last summer’s flood disaster in the Saguenay, planning for emergencies isn’t just an academic exercise. In the Saguenay, emergency studies were also not made public to residents. The dam operators didn’t want to cause a “panic.” The result was no one had any idea how to react when the unthinkable happened.

One region where Hydro-Quebec has made public some of its “dam-failure” studies is the Lower North Shore, near Sept-Îles. It is said, for example, that a “total failure” in the Outardes-Manicouagan dam complex would create a massive tidal wave so big it would sweep clear across the St. Lawrence River, which is 75 kilometres wide at that point, and crash into the other shore.

Chief Charles Bobbish of Chisasibi said he was peppered with questions about the safety of the dams after the Saguenay floods, but didn’t have any answers: “What are we supposed to do? The questions are being asked. I didn’t know what to say. I guess that information still has to reach my desk.”

Alan Penn, scientific advisor to the Cree Regional Authority, said Crees have been shut out not only of information, but input into dam management so it’s less damaging to the environment. “Everything is perfect in Hydro-Quebec’s mind. They very rarely admit anything is wrong with the dams,” he said.

As of press time, no response from HQ to our call.