The Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar was one of three built as part of the Columbia River Treaty. It has had a huge impact on the Columbia River valley all the way to Revelstoke. Photo: Contributed

The Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar was one of three built as part of the Columbia River Treaty. It has had a huge impact on the Columbia River valley all the way to Revelstoke. Photo: Contributed

Local governments committee updates Columbia River Treaty recommendations

Updated recommendations developed after public feedback from Columbia Basin residents

Local governments in the Columbia Basin have sent a list of recommendations to the provincial, federal and Indigenous governments involved in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.

Municipalities, along with regional districts in the Southern Interior, developed the recommendations following consultation with Basin residents, having solicited public feedback as part of the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments Committee.

‘There are real opportunities to refine the Treaty and domestic hydro operations to reduce the negative impacts on our quality of life in the Basin,” states Linda Worley, who chairs the committee and serves as a director with the Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary. “We thank Basin residents for continuing to advocate for improvements and the CRT Negotiating Team and Minister Conroy for the phenomenal engagement opportunities, for hearing our concerns and doing their utmost to rectify these impacts.”

In total, there were 14 recommendations that focused on treaty process and content, along with seven additional recommendations focused on domestic issues such as water management for the Lake Koocanusa Reservoir and a water management process for the Kootenay River.

Updated recommendations include a detail description of impacts from the Treaty, as well as less fluctuation in reservoir levels and a broader governance structure that includes Indigenous nations at a government-to-government level with the province and feds, as well as Indigenous and western science experts in ecosystem management.

Additional recommendations include adding ecosystem function as a third treaty priority, alongside hydro power generation and flood control management.

The Columbia River Treaty is a water management agreement between Canada and the United States that was ratified in 1964 and regulates the flows of the Columbia River for power generation in B.C. and flood control in the United States.

The agreement stipulated that the U.S. prepay Canada $64 million for flood control, as well as financial compensation for potential power that could be generated on the Columbia River due to altered flows that resulted from the Treaty.

The treaty led to the construction of the Mica Dam, Keenleyside Dam and Duncan Dam in British Columbia and the Libby Dam on the U.S. side in Montana.

However, the treaty has been criticized for it’s lack of Indigenous input when it was signed, as the construction and operation of the dams flooded 110,000 hectares, displacing more than 2,000 residents — including First Nations communities — while also impacting farming, tourism and forestry industries.

The treaty has no termination date, however, both the United States or Canada had the option to end the agreement from September 2024 onward, provided that 10 years notice is given. The two countries have been negotiating since 2018 to modernize the treaty based on domestic priorities for both sides.

The Ktunaxa, the Secwepemc and the Syilx-Okanagan First Nations joined the talks as observers in 2019, but have participated in negotiation preparations and have made presentations during treaty discussions.

The Columbia River Treaty Local Government Committee says it is aware of the provincial negotiating team’s pledge to bring back any renegotiated terms to residents and local governments for review before finalization in treaty talks.

“We encourage Basin residents and local governments to get educated about the Treaty and stay informed about the ongoing negotiations to be ready to provide input when invited,” adds Ms. Worley. “We assure the Negotiating Team that the Committee and Basin residents will be looking for significant changes in the Treaty that improve our quality of life compared to current operations.”

Katrine Conroy, the NDP MLA for Kootenay West, is serving as the B.C. minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, while Kathy Eichenberger is the B.C. lead on the Canadian delegation, while Sylvain Fabi is Canada’s chief negotiator.

The tenth round of negotiations was held last June.