What do people living in the Basin want to see in a modernized Columbia River Treaty?
The forward-thinking message that water is an ecological resource – not just a hydro-electric source – tops the list alongside ecosystem protection and the desire to create, for example, fish and wildlife restoration programs.
Those interests and others comprise a newly released publication called the “2018 Community Meetings Summary Report,” whereby hundreds of Basin residents, including 114 from the immediate area, attended the latest round of treaty talks and lent their voices to ongoing public consultations.
“When the Columbia River Treaty was created more than half a century ago, governments didn’t consult the people in the Columbia Basin,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, in a Dec. 21 news release.
“Our government today wants to hear how local residents think the treaty could be improved. We’re committed to engaging with the people most affected by the treaty and to taking their views to the negotiating table. B.C. is also committed to continuing our sustained engagement with Indigenous Nations, and we are working closely with Canada and Indigenous Nations to ensure that our common interests are addressed in a modernized treaty.”
In spring 2018, negotiators representing the governments of Canada, including British Columbia, and the United States began holding meetings to discuss the future of the treaty. In order to keep local residents up to date on negotiations, the B.C. government hosted a series of 10 community meetings in the Basin.
Among the topics raised were treaty impacts to Columbia Basin ecosystems, agriculture and tourism, increased support for the most affected communities, Indigenous Nations’ involvement in the treaty negotiation process, the need for greater youth engagement on the treaty, re-introduction of salmon to the Canadian portion of the Columbia River, and equitable sharing of benefits between Canada and the U.S.
These meetings also sought residents’ input on key issues they felt should be considered in the negotiations. The summarized report provides details on the discussions from each community meeting, which locally, were held in Castlegar and Nelson in mid-June.
In Castlegar, 64 locals attended. Interests discussed included improved access infrastructure in Lower Arrow Lake area. The report notes that some residents are upset that areas isolated due to the flooding of the valley still have not been provided the public access that they were promised.
There was a call to build infrastructure (roads and bridges) to connect communities and properties in the Lower Arrow Lake area. Another topic focused on “attention to impacts,” meaning there was recognition that Treaty dams provide important water storage for power production benefits including backup for alternative energy sources, but there also needs to be adequate attention to addressing negative impacts.
For example, Arrow Lakes Reservoir debris removal and salmon restoration were specific additional interests identified to address such impacts. Another point of interest brought up was the increasing probability of a drier future and receding glaciers, which must be taken into account when negotiating minimum reservoir water levels.
To view the full summarized report visit the province’s website engage.gov.bc.ca.
The province will return to Columbia Basin communities in 2019 to provide further updates on negotiations and seek input on new developments.
The next round of Columbia River Treaty negotiation meetings will take place Feb. 27 and 28 in Washington, D.C.
The Columbia River Treaty, ratified in 1964, is a transboundary water management agreement between Canada and the United States.
The treaty optimizes flood management and power generation, requiring co-ordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River on both sides of the border.
The treaty has no end date, but either country can unilaterally terminate the treaty from September 2024 onward, provided that at least 10 years’ notice is given.