More than 90 people took part in a Columbia River Treaty Review consultation conference at the Sandman Hotel in Castlegar on Friday, March 22.
The conference is part of a provincial review designed to look at the many impacts stemming from the Columbia River Treaty, a 1964 agreement between Canada and The United States regarding the construction and operation of several dams along the Columbia River.
The initial purpose of the treaty and the dams was to mitigate flood control and increase power production for the two countries. Many people were displaced when the dams were constructed and flooding affected fish stocks, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Under the terms of the treaty, the earliest either country could terminate the agreement is 2024 — but only with ten years notice from one of the parties — hence the reason comprehensive reviews are being undertaken now.
Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the Columbia River Treaty Review (under the umbrella of B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas) said a report on the conference will be available in May, with a draft report of the public consultation process available in June.
The report will detail the entire consultation process and will also contain a recommendation to provincial cabinet on the future of the treaty.
“We can make changes to the treaty at any time,” said Eichenberger before the start of the conference. “However, for the first 50 years the treaty was implemented, by and large it achieved its original objectives of flood control and power production. But it was developed in the 60s and didn’t really consider other values.
“There is a report we commissioned form George Penfold, regional innovation chair at Selkirk College, to look at the benefits and impacts of the treaty dams, their construction and operation,” she said. “Some communities have done quite well and continue to do well as a result of the operation of those facilities and some communities less so. That is certainly something we have realized through this consultation process.”
Addressing the crowd at a morning open-house, Eichenberger said the public will have a chance to not only see what the draft report recommends, but will also be able to comment on it before it is finalized.
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration were at the conference, something Eichenberger said was good for maintaining an open dialogue across the border.
“The mandate of our team is to make a recommendation to provincial cabinet and we have been given a target date of the fall of this year,” she said.
Eichenberger hoped that with the conference date falling on World Water Day, more people would take the opportunity to learn about the treaty, understand what kind of decisions can be made coming up and what the implications of keeping or terminating the treaty are.
“The greatest goal for us is to get people to provide us with advice and input on what we should consider when we make recommendation to government,” she said. “It has been a very interesting process, we’ve had several phases of community meetings, very good discussions, youth events and we are putting together an advisory committee. The level of knowledge in the Columbia River Basin is just incredible.”
Heather Matthews, BC Hydro project manager for the review, is providing technical support to Eichenberger’s team during the review and said there are significant economic implications moving forward.
“If the treaty is terminated, we lose the Canadian Entitlement — the extra energy generated in the United States because of the treaty dams,” said Matthews. “That comes back to B.C., it’s owned by the province, sold on the market and is worth [on average] about $200 million per year.”
For more information on the treaty visit: http://blog.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty