The next round of talks to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty will take place here in the Kootenays, officials told a crowd in Castlegar last night.
And so far, the talks haven’t been tainted by the tariff dispute between Ottawa and Washington.
“It is an interesting situation with this administration in the States,” says Katrine Conroy, the MLA for Castlegar and minister responsible for B.C.’s participation in the treaty talks. She attended Thursday night’s meeting at the Castlegar recreation complex.
“But our focus is win-win for both sides, and ensuring the best benefits for people in the Basin.”
About 60 people showed up at the complex Thursday night for an update and to give their views on the treaty talks. The meeting is one of nine taking place in the region as the talks to renew the treaty get underway.
The treaty, an agreement that went into effect in 1964, holds back 15.5 million acre-feet of water in Canada each year for flood control and power generation — an estimated dollar value of $3 billion USD. Four hydroelectric dams were built under the agreement, which was signed between Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
The first treaty renewal meeting, held in Washington, D.C., at the end of May, went well, says Conroy.
“The first couple of days are just presenting value statements, describing where we are going. So far the talks have been very congenial on both sides of the border,” she says. “We’ve been having discussions for a number of years now. I’ve met regularly with other legislators from the Basin, and residents in the United States and a lot of us know we want to see a win-win situation with negotiations.
“But it is give-and-take, and they are pushing on issues like our downstream benefits. They feel they pay too much for power, and we feel they have to pay for flood control. If they don’t have it there could be devastating consequences for the Americans downstream.”
Conroy says she felt the province’s representatives at the table have been doing a great job of both consulting with the public and representing the province’s interests at the table.
One of those negotiators, Kathy Eichenberger, was at Thursday’s meeting, and told the audience the talks have a wider scope than the first negotiations back in the late 1950s.
“We expect the negotiations to take some time,” Eichenberger said. “There are complex issues, and many interests and desires to achieve for the negotiations to come to an outcome that’s positive for both countries. Our goal is to have a modernized Columbia River Treaty that has benefits that are shared equitably between the two countries.
“As with the current treaty, we’ll be focusing on flood control and power generation,” Eichenberger added. “But today is a different game than it was in the early 60s. We’ll be focusing on the ecosystem and looking for opportunities to improve environmental conditions in the Canadian Basin.”
Among those issues, said Eichenberger, are talks to restore salmon habitat and migrations. She said First Nations would be actively involved in that part of the discussion.
First Nations leaders have complained they’ve been kept away from the table. In May, several First Nations issued a news release to say they were “shocked” to be excluded from the process.
Conroy said the three First Nations on the Canadian side, and 15 tribes on the American live along the Columbia, and are part of the consultation process. But she said the decision on who would take part in the actual talks was a decision of the senior governments.
“We have to make sure negotiations are done by negotiatiors,” she says. “I won’t be at the table, nor will the premier, or secretary of state, the prime minister or the president.
“Consultation is ongoing and continues to happen. It was a decision of Global Affairs Canada. Because ultmately, they sign the treaty.”
Consultation meetings like last night’s are expected to continue through the negotiation process, said Conroy, and they are of value.
“The issues raised in these meetings very much come back to Victoria, to the team, and then head off to the table wherever they may be,” she says.
The next round of talks between the two countries will take place in mid-August, and will take about two days. That two-days-talking, two-months-break cycle is expected to be the pace of talks for the foreseeable future.
Conroy said coming to a new agreement is going to take time.
“I think this is an ongoing process, will take a few years, this is not something that can be done overnight or over a few meetings,” she said. “It’s going to be back and forth, ensuring the proper information is shared. I think it will take a while.”
A venue has yet to be chosen for the August round of talks in the Kootenays.
A public consulation meeting will be held Friday, June 15, at the Rod and Gun Club hall in Nelson from 6 p.m.to 9 p.m.