Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, announced Thursday that the province will continue the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) and try to negotiate improvements to the treaty from within its existing framework.
The decision comes with the deadline of September when either side in the agreement can give the required 10-year notice to terminate substantial portions of the treaty or end it entirely in 2024, the 60-year lifespan of the original treaty’s time frame.
The decision to continue with the treaty includes 14 principles intended to guide B.C. in any discussions on the future of the CRT between Canada and the United States.
The announcement comes after a two-year review of the 50-year-old treaty between Canada and the U.S., with the Province of B.C. acting as Canada’s representative and the US Entity made up of the US Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) representing the U.S.
“We believe continuing the Columbia River Treaty while exploring how improvements could benefit both countries is the best strategy moving forward for B.C., Canada, and the United States,” said Bennett in a media release. “The consultations that have included various levels of government, stakeholder groups, First Nations, and the public have helped ensure the future of the treaty will be shaped by the people it impacts.”
Kootenay West MLA, Katrine Conroy, is the NDP’s opposition critic for the Columbia River Treaty but, in this case, she is not being so critical.
“This is a good thing,” said Conroy. “You won’t hear this much in my political career but the minister and I agree on this.
“I think it’s better to work within the treaty and improve upon it. We gave up far more than we gained in the treaty, they gained a huge socioeconomic boost, to their tourism, agriculture, flood control, all this on top of the hydro. It’s pretty amazing what you can do when you have control of the flow.
“This is a good start and we have to be tough in negotiations but I think we’re in a strong position. I’m glad the ministry has let the federal government know the direction they want to go with this and I think the citizens will support it.”
The review process included numerous community consultation sessions held throughout the Columbia Basin to discuss the impacts of the original treaty and what the people of the region wanted to see addressed in any new discussions on the cross-border agreement.
“The first thing we noticed during the community consultations was the deep sorrow felt in many communities at the losses the region incurred,” said Deb Kozak, local government committee chair for the review. “But the people of this region are pragmatic and resilient and they wanted to talk about how to make things better.
“When this treaty was struck 50 years ago it was a different time and there were no provisions for the ecology of the river system. People have expressed concerns about possible impacts of climate change and the industrial reservoirs with the dramatic raising and lowering of water levels that impact fish and wildlife and erosion. These things need to be acknowledged and addressed.”
While the U.S. side of the treaty has yet to formally declare whether or not it is interested in continuing with the treaty, the US Entity released its recommendations for the future of the CRT last December.
Although the document clearly states that it feels the financial compensation returned to B.C. through the downstream benefits of the agreement are far too high and need to be addressed, many of the stated principles in the document are relatively closely aligned with the principles put forward by B.C.
“The U.S. relies heavily on a managed system,” said Kozak. “There’s a big advantage to continuing the discussion and looking for improvements. When this treaty was struck is was a highly unusual occurrence, since then it has been used as a model for cross-border agreements. It has served Canada and the U.S. very well.”