Final round for Greater Trail public input on river treaty

Local meeting set for tonight at Castlegar’s Sandman Inn

As Canada and the United States move closer to making recommendations on the future of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), Basin residents have one last opportunity to express opinions, ideas and concerns before the review team presents its final draft to the province.

“More news is coming from the U.S., for example in the way of American editorials,” said Matt Gordon, spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas. “We’re asking the public to review and provide further comments to ensure Basin residents are having their say on the future of the Columbia River Treaty.”

The CRT is a trans-boundary agreement signed between Canada and the U.S. in 1961, and ratified in 1964 to develop and operate dams in the upper Columbia River basin for power and flood control benefits to both countries.

Either country can unilaterally terminate most of the CRT provisions after Sept. 16, 2024, provided that at least 10 years notice is given (September 2014).

A public meeting was held in Jaffray Monday, followed by a session in Golden Tuesday, Nakusp today, Castlegar on Thursday (6:30-9 p.m. at the Sandman Inn) and Valemount, Nov. 14.

To clarify a previous story, “Americans seek changes to Columbia River Treaty,” (Trail Times Oct. 6), British Columbia pre-sold the first 30 years of the Canadian Entitlement for a lump sum of US$254 million in 1964, according to a treaty review available at gov.bc.ca.

That payment was used to finance the construction of the Duncan Dam in 1967, Arrow/Hugh Keenleyside, 1968, and the Mica Dam in 1973.

The Canadian Entitlement refers to Canada’s half share of the additional power generated in the U.S. as a results of the dams, or downstream power benefits.

Since 1963, those benefits are owned by the province under the Canada-British Columbia Agreement.

Further, the Canadian Entitlement is only a calculated amount developed five years in advance, and not based on the actual operation of the entire hydropower system.

Specifically, the CRT identifies how the three dams will be operated to optimize flood control, and power production in both countries.

In the last decade, proceeds from the Canadian Entitlement have gone into the province’s consolidated revenue fund, and dispersed into areas such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure.

Since 2002, each year, the Entitlement has ranged from $100 million to $319 million, totalling over $2 billion during that time.

“The Canadian Entitlement is a sticking point for us,” said Mike Hanson, spokesperson for the Bonneyville Power Administration (BPA) in a previous telephone interview with the Trail Times.  “The current value that we’ve estimated on a yearly basis of that power is $250-350 million,” explained Hanson, adding, “we believe that current value is worth significantly less than half of what we are currently paying.”

In 2010, a partnership between the BPA and the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was formed, known as the U.S. Entity.

The purpose of the Entity is to review the treaty and develop regional recommendations, “for what the northwest thinks we ought to do about the future of the CRT,” said Hanson.

Aside from money, today both countries have concerns regarding the long-term social and economic impacts to the local communities, climate-change effects, and the environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of large dams.

Rachael Osborn, director at the Columbia Institute for Water Policy based in Spokane, said that the CRT review process and possible negotiations present opportunities to improve the health of the Columbia River.

“It is regrettable ecosystem function wasn’t really thought about or prepared for in 1964,” said Osborn. “But we can change the emphasis on how the river is managed and I am excited to see big fish back in our river.”

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