Columbia River treaty meeting fuels more questions than answers

An open meeting was held Wednesday to further discuss and request input from Basin residents about the CRT review.

As sure as the Columbia River continues to flow south, so do many questions and concerns from Basin residents about the benefits and negative impact of the current Columbia River Treaty (CRT).

The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas hosted an open meeting at the Best Western plus Columbia Hotel in Trail on Wednesday to further discuss and request input from Basin residents about the CRT review.

About 60 people attended the evening meeting questioning, among other things, how our stateside neighbors factor into the 2014 review.

“We travel to the States to share our perspective with these same presentations,” explained Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the CRT.

“But we don’t ask them their views on the treaty, that is not our role. That would be interfering with the U.S. process, we are here to talk to our own citizens.”

Although there have been numerous educational open houses in the Columbia River Basin, residents continue to ask for more information on several issues that range from the American point of view and position in the CRT review; the CRT’s environmental impact on fisheries, recreation and tourism; the influence of climate change and how it may influence the CRT in the future; issues related to compensation; and scenarios for the future of the CRT.

While Eichenberger was able to field some of the questions, others will require more consultation.

“People in the basin were never consulted the first time around,” she said.

“Today is a very different world than 1964, we want the ideas from people living here to bring forth to government.”

Because there was never any public consultation before the treaty was signed, the true impact of the CRT on B.C.’s environment will never fully be known.

“Part of the problem is that there was never any baselines established before the dams went in, and we don’t actually know the full extent of what was there,” said George Penfold, consultant to the CRT review.

“Such a vast area was inundated, it is almost impossible to know the full extent of ecological impact, and we cannot look back and really now what was changed,” he explained.

“But for the impacts of the treaty in Canada, the U.S. is not liable.”

The 1964 treaty made provision that Canada be responsible and liable for its own impacts, as well as the United States.

“A lot of the environmental impacts are because of the treaty, but are not really treaty related issues,” said Penfold.

“They are really domestic issues that have to be resolved as part of the B.C. government and B.C. Hydro policies.”

B.C. Hydro representatives were at the meeting to provide an overview of how climate change my influence future CRT decisions as well as what the treaty means to the finances of British Columbia.

A technical conference is planned for the CRT review in March 2013; when data will be release from the power company’s ongoing research of dam and reservoir issues.

The CRT is a trans-boundary water management agreement between the United States and Canada that was signed in 1964.

The treaty grew out of two major challenges: devastating flooding to areas close to the Columbia River in both Canada and the U.S. and the need for more electricity to support a growing population in the Pacific Northwest.

The purpose of the CRT is to optimize flood management and power generation.

This requires coordinated operation of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River, on both sides of the border.

The latest date to provide written termination notice is Sept 2014.

“Termination could result in a loss of $100-300 million dollars each year to B.C.,” said Basil Stumborg, an analysis expert for B.C. Hydro.