Churchill River Diversion

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South Bay Diversion ChannelThe Churchill River Diversion (CRD) is an inter-basin water flow diversion project. It diverts water from the Churchill River to the Nelson River basin located in northern Manitoba. It was created to increase the water flow to larger generating stations on the lower Nelson River. In total, an average of 25% more water flows into the lower Nelson River due to the CRD. Most of the water flow of the Churchill River is diverted at Southern Indian Lake into the Nelson River via the Rat River and the Burntwood River. The community of South Indian Lake is approximately a 14 hour drive from Winnipeg and about 135 kilometers northwest of Thompson.

The CRD consists of the Missi Falls Control Structure, the South Bay Diversion Channel, the Notigi Control Structure, the Manasan Falls Ice Control Structure, and the Churchill Weir. The Missi Falls Control Structure is only accessible by air and boat.

The diverted Churchill River water is used for power production at one site on the Burntwood River (i.e., Wuskwatim generating station) and at four sites on the Lower Nelson River (Keeyask, Kettle, Long Spruce, and Limestone generating stations) downstream of Split Lake. These generating stations account for about 75% of power generation in Manitoba. The five stations can generate up to 4,512 MW or nearly enough energy to power 2.9 million homes. The CRD enhances Manitoba’s energy security.

In 1973, the Manitoba government issued an Interim Water Power Act Licence to build the CRD project. Construction began in the same year and the diversion was in operation in 1976.

Three main components of the CRD are:

  1. Missi Falls Control Structure - The control structure creates a reservoir on Southern Indian Lake. It regulates Southern Indian Lake levels and water flow into the lower Churchill River.
  2. South Bay Diversion Channel - The channel diverts water from the South Bay of Southern Indian Lake. The channel is approximately 61 metre wide at its base and 9.3 kilometre long.
  3. Notigi Control Structure - The Notigi Control structure creates a reservoir on Rat Lake. It regulates the lake level and water flow from the Rat River into the Nelson River via Burntwood River.

In 1986, Manitoba Hydro began operating the CRD Augmented Flow Program (AFP) to optimize the CRD operation. The AFP deviated from the range of water levels and flows stipulated in the Interim licence. The department annually approved Manitoba Hydro’s AFP with terms and conditions since 1986.  

The Final Water Power Act Licence for the CRD was issued on May 12, 2021. It includes six new licensing terms and five non-licensing conditions. These inter-connected conditions address environmental concerns heard during the consultation process and further recommendations in the Clean Environment Commissions’  Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment Report. These conditions require that Manitoba Hydro expand the existing Coordinated Aquatic Monitoring Program (CAMP) program with input from Indigenous communities and using Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, address shoreline erosion, participate in future planning and studies (e.g., to improve the environment for fish downstream of Missi control structure, habitat studies, and flow regime scenarios) with input from Indigenous communities and using Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, and participate in provincial large area planning initiatives led by the province. The final licence now includes the terms of the former AFP approval. 

Manitoba ensures that Manitoba Hydro follows the terms and conditions of their Final Water Power Act licence through review of compliance reports (e.g., annual Indigenous engagement report, licence implementation guide, 90-day water level and flow forecast, monthly and annual water level and flow reports, etc.), compliance plans, regular meetings, and site visits.

Water Power Act Licences:

Licence Related Documentation:

  • Renewal Licence Request (July 29, 2022) 
  • Licence Implementation Guide (May 10, 2022)
    (This guide enables Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro to document a common understanding of compliance with the final licence. It provides the methodology to be used to determine water levels and flows, definition of licence compliance terms, and protocols for reporting.)