Conference seeks collaboration on Columbia River

This fall's conference is intended to bring together a number of groups for discussion on issues surrounding the Columbia River Treaty.

  • Apr. 12, 2014 1:00 p.m.

For many of us the Columbia River is just that stretch of water that flows past Trail, but it is actually the fourth largest river in North America, at approximately 2,000 kilometres long.

And while we tend to think of it as our river, perhaps because it begins in B.C., the drainage basin of the Columbia also encompasses seven U.S. states and covers about 420,000 square kms in total, roughly the size of France.

So, while it may seem like a B.C. river, it is very much a part of a significant portion of the Pacific Northwest as well.

This fall, the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC), will be holding a joint, cross-border conference to discuss strategies on how to collaborate on management of the whole Columbia River system.

“It’s a timely discussion because both countries have had the opportunity to table their thoughts on renewing the Columbia River Treaty,” said Garry Merkel, former chair of the CBT and co-chair of the October conference.

“Historically, the only thing coordinated was the flow of the river for flood control and power management. Things are different now and people have questions about the ecology, the fisheries. How do we meet all the needs of the river as a system?”

Merkel said that this will be the fourth in a series of joint meetings coordinated by the two groups, the CBT representing the citizens of the Canadian portion of the Columbia Basin and the NWPCC, a somewhat similar organization but representing more broad, state government interests from the seven U.S. states in the basin.

“People who live in the basin want to become more involved in how it is managed,” said Merkel.

“What does our future look like?

“We need to look at the case studies that have been conducted and try to see our way forward. It’s something we’ve been working towards between the two organizations.”

The conference is intended to bring together experts and interested stakeholders representing state, provincial, federal, tribal, and First Nations governments; power utilities, environmental groups, and citizen groups from both sides of the border to share information and build understanding on ecosystem management, international water governance, climate change, and energy, as well as provide updates and an opportunity for discussion on trans-boundary issues such as the Columbia River Treaty review process and efforts to restore and conserve salmon in the upper Columbia.

“We ask a lot from this river: hydropower, irrigation, inland navigation, flood control, recreation and, at the same time, environmental conditions that support fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,” Larry Cassidy, former chair of NWPCC and conference co-chair, said in a media release. “With the Northwest population growing, with the United States and Canada rethinking the future of the Columbia River Treaty, and with demands on the river increasing for fish benefits, this is a good time to look back at what the river has done for us and then think of what we want the river to do in the future.”

The conference will be held Oct. 21 to the 23 at the Hilton Double Tree in Spokane, Washington. More information on the conference and accommodations can be found at