The latest in a sequence of local public information sessions on the Columbia River Treaty was held on Nov. 7 at the Sandman Hotel in Castlegar. A sizable turnout was expected and that’s what materialized.
The international agreement, signed in 1964 is an open-ended, or ‘evergreen’ arrangement, that will continue in perpetuity unless ended by one country or the other.
To terminate the treaty (which was started to coordinate flood control and provide hydro-electric power generation on both sides of the border) ten years notice is required, which means 2024 is the soonest it could happen – if the process is followed and action begins next year.
The strongest public sentiments aired at the Sandman Hotel forum seemed to relate to fluctuating water levels in Lower Arrow Lake.
The issue, of course, is a complex one with few outright simple answers. With that in mind the host of the meeting, Kathy Eichenberger, Executive Director of the Columbia River Treaty Review was asked the following questions on the controversial topic. Bullets, which follow, and italicized text denote her responses.
How would you describe the public response to these forums, overall. Where in the Basin would you say has the keenest interest in the treaty?
• Based on the feedback forms we received from community meeting attendees, and what we heard from Basin residents during the community meetings, most people feel that the draft Columbia River Treaty Review public consultation report includes or mostly includes the issues and concerns important to them.
Participation compared to the previous three rounds was lower in some communities and greater in others. However, in total the engagement from residents across the basin shows a continued interest and desire to have a say in the future of the Treaty. Those who attended were very engaged and provided the Province with good feedback.
Approximately 75 people attended the Castlegar meeting, almost 30 from Selkirk College.
Are there more of these sessions scheduled?
• There will be one more community session in Valemount on November 14 after which there are no other community sessions planned in the near future. Basin residents can continue to provide comments and feedback via our website blog (gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty), by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone to 250- 953-3368 or by mail at Columbia River Treaty Review, PO Box 9314 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria BC, V8W 9N1.
When and how will the decision be made whether or not to terminate the treaty?
• The Columbia River Treaty Review team will provide its recommendation to Cabinet in mid-December. Cabinet will make a decision following its review of the recommendation and a consideration of all options. The US entity will be providing its recommendation to the US Department of State by the end of December. It is our understanding that the Department of State will spend several months on an internal review of future options for the Columbia River Treaty.
What has the public consensus been to this point?
• Most attendees at community meetings have expressed an interest in continuing the Treaty in order to negotiate improvements.
It must be a huge challenge to try and keep everyone happy. I heard a fair bit about Lower Arrow Lake levels, and the level of 1435 feet described as desirable by some. (Is that really how deep it is?) How high/low has the level been in the last several years?
• Full pool at Arrow Lakes Reservoir is at 1444 feet. Normal annual reservoir fluctuations in recent years have been roughly 45 feet. BC Hydro’s water licence allows for a total fluctuation of 66 feet (1378 – 1444 ft), although levels over the last 5-10 years have rarely fallen below 1400 feet. During the Columbia Water Use Planning process, the ideal Arrow Lakes Reservoir level for water-based recreation was 1435-1440 feet, although residents also said that levels down to 1425 ft are acceptable for recreation as long as access (primarily boat ramps) is provided.
While almost all residents would like to see less fluctuation in the reservoir’s level there is not a consensus on at what level the reservoir should be maintained.