Columbia River Treaty

Fiftieth anniversary – a time to remember and reflect

  • Sep. 18, 2014 5:00 p.m.

September 16 marked the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Columbia River Treaty by the Canadian and United States governments.

The Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee is encouraging Basin communities and residents to take a few moments to recognize this important historical date, and to remember and reflect on the impacts and benefits from this Treaty in the Canadian Columbia Basin.

Three dams and reservoirs were constructed in Canada based on the treaty — Mica Dam north of Revelstoke with the Kinbasket Reservoir covering lands north to Valemount and south almost to Golden; Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar creating the Arrow Lakes Reservoir upstream to Revelstoke; and Duncan Dam and reservoir north of Kaslo — as well as Libby Dam near Libby, Montana, which created Lake Koocanusa in Canada near Cranbrook.

There have been significant benefits for the Pacific Northwest region in the U.S., for B.C. and for Basin communities during the 50 years that the treaty has been in place.

However, in some communities substantial sacrifices were made by residents during the creation of the dams and reservoirs, and impacts continue for Basin communities today as a result of ongoing hydro operations.

“The impacts and benefits of the treaty are different in each community in the Basin, so we are encouraging each to choose the appropriate ways to recognize, remember and reflect on this important anniversary in their own way,” stated Deb Kozak, Chair of the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee. “We also encourage Basin residents to take a few minutes out of their day to recognize this historic date.”

After significant pressure from Basin residents and local governments, in 1995 the provincial government recognized the impacts of the treaty and created Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Power Corporation to invest in three hydro power projects in the Basin.

Columbia Power develops, builds and operates these projects on behalf of the partnership and income is shared equally between the partners.

The Trust uses its portion of the income to enhance the social, economic and environmental well-being of the Columbia Basin — now and for generations to come.

“Although there have been benefits, it is important to remember the impact the treaty has had on the affected areas, and that it continues to impact our communities today,” said Karen Hamling, Mayor of the Village of Nakusp and Vice-Chair of the Committee.

The Committee continues to work with the province, First Nations, hydroelectric facility operators and Columbia Basin Trust to reduce the impacts of the treaty and enhance benefits for Basin communities.

Their current focus is on the creation of a new Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee to ensure ongoing input on treaty refinements and hydro operations.

This  is an important historical date for a second reason; it is the first date that either Canada or the U.S. could choose to provide notice of a decision to unilaterally terminate the treaty. As an international treaty, it can be terminated or amended at any time by mutual agreement of Canada and the United States.

The treaty has no termination date, but may be terminated unilaterally by either Canada or the United States after 60 years, provided at least 10 years notice — making September 16 of this year the earliest date notice can be made.

Given the importance of the 2014 date, reviews of the future of the treaty have been implemented in both Canada and the U.S..

Under the 1963 Canada-BC Agreement, Canada agreed not to amend or terminate the treaty without the province’s consent, so B.C. has led the review process in Canada.

In December 2013, the CRT Local Governments’ Committee submitted its recommendations regarding the future of the treaty and opportunities to address domestic issues to the B.C. and Canadian governments.

In March 2014, B.C. decided to seek improvements to the treaty at this time based on a set of thirteen principles, rather than terminating the Treaty.

A recommendation from the Pacific Northwest that broadly supported modernizing the treaty to bring about better and more balanced benefits was sent to the U.S. State Department in December 2013.

Discussions among Canada, the province and the U.S. are anticipated in 2015, once the U.S. State Department has completed its review of the regional recommendation.

The committee will continue to monitor the treaty review processes and become involved when appropriate.

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