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Latest Columbia River Treaty modernization talks conclude

Negotiations were held in Vancouver this week, next round headed to Washington DC
View of the Columbia River shoreline in Trail. Photo: Jessee Regnier

The latest round of negotiations between Canada and the United States over the modernization of a decades-old water-management agreement have wrapped up following discussions in Vancouver this week.

The two countries are working to update the Columbia River Treaty, a flood management and power generation accord involving the Columbia and Kootenay river systems in the Columbia Basin region of British Columbia and the United States pacific northwest.

Katrine Conroy, the B.C. cabinet minister responsible for the treaty, noted the talks are positive as the 15th round of negotiations concluded.

“Although there are still outstanding issues to be resolved, there is cause for optimism as the negotiating teams move closer to a consensus on some of the main issues,” Conroy said, in a news release. “Canada and the U.S. are working together to reach an agreement-in-principle that will protect and support people in the Columbia River Basin and the region’s ecosystems.

“As always, B.C., Canada and Basin Indigenous Nations are committed to reaching a fair agreement that shares benefits equitably between countries.”

Discussions to modernize the treaty formally began in 2018, while the federal government also announced the inclusion of Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations as observers.

As part of the original terms, the treaty led to the construction of three dams in British Columbia, along with another in Montana.

While flood control management and power generation were the two main pillars of the original treaty, ecosystem function — understanding and reversing the impact of the dams on the river systems and restoring fish species, particularly salmon and sturgeon — has emerged as a significant element of the renewed discussions.

Other aspects include the “Canadian Entitlement” — the annual dollar amount the United States pays to Canada for downstream power generation benefits, as well as Canadian operational flexibility, particularly in the context of Lake Koocanusa water levels.

The Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1961, but ratified three years later. It has been historically criticized for a lack of engagement with Columbia Basin Indigenous Nations, as reservoirs created by the dams flooded out Indigenous communities and cultural values, as well as adversely impacting ecosystems, agricultural and tourism values.

The next round of treaty negotiations is scheduled for March 22-23 in Washington, DC.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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