Solving emerging environmental challenges of the hydroelectric sector in partnership with utilities and Indigenous communities (NSERC Alliance 2021-2025)

Hydroelectricity is a cornerstone of the energy sector in many Canadian provinces, and particularly in Quebec. Increased bioaccumulation of the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) in fish in large hydro-electric reservoirs have been identified as environmental issues for decades in this sector.

In Canada, these issues most often affect First Peoples. Here we propose to tackle new unexpected challenges linked to mercury in partnership with Atikamekw, Innu and Inuit communities, Hydro-Quebec, Innergex and academic partners.

These challenges focus on the following questions:

(1) what is the the combined impact of run-of-river plants and landscape disturbances (logging and wildfire) on Hg contamination of food webs?

(2) How will new northern run-of-river power plants affect permafrost degradation and Hg cycling?

(3) What is the impact of recently described winter production of MeHg in large dammed rivers and MeHg bioavailability in their estuaries?

(4) Can we modify human MeHg exposure through food preparation?


This project has been co-constructed with communities to maximize EDI, integrate community concerns and needs, share knowledge, and provide direct benefits to them. We have assembled a team of academics recognized for their work in mercury and carbon biogeochemistry, permafrost physics, genomics, microbiology, analytical chemistry and food web dynamics. This project will promote Indigenous community involvement in research, and cooperation with utilities. The knowledge gained by the hydroelectric sector through this grant will help develop strategies to decrease its Hg footprint and protect wildlife and human communities. This will increase competitiveness against other power utilities using other energy sources. It will also increase the exportability of hydroelectrical technologies and know-how on the global market.

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