Following the U.S. Department of States announcement that the Columbia River Treaty will be revisited beginning in early 2018, local politicians are hopeful that the renegotiating could be positive for the West Kootenay region.
Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West and Minister for Children and Families, is also the Minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty. While she won’t be directly involved in negotiations, her staff will be.
“Some of the things that need to be dealt with are the fact that when the original treaty was signed it was just a focus on flood control and power generation, and today we need to make sure that we look into issues around the environment, climate change,” said Conroy. “We have to make sure that things like tourism and recreation that’s really impacted by low reservoir levels, that we deal with that.”
Conroy also added that the government has heard from First Nations throughout the Basin that they have certain issues they would like to see addressed as well.
Asked if she thinks there’s any chance the U.S. will pay Canada less following renegotiation of the treaty, Conroy said no.
“When you look at what they get for what they pay, I think they get an extremely fair deal,” she said. “If you think of towns like Portland or any of the communities along the river if they started to not have the flood control, that could have really devastating results for them. If they didn’t have the amount of water that they need for the fishery systems they have, it could also be quite devastating. And for the power generation, they need the water too.”
Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, hopes that negotiations will go smoothly.
“Canada is, I think, negotiating from a position of strength and I hope they take advantage of that. We hold the taps on the water, when that water is held back and when it is released in those dams,” he said.
Cannings also brought up First Nations participation in the renegotiation.
“It’s a very different world that we’re in right now, compared to when the first Treaty was negotiated… First Nations participation is really a must this time, certainly on the Canadian side and I think to a large extent on the American side as well. So that will change things, I think,” he said.
Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff is enthusiastic about the negotiations and hopes that the impact of water levels on recreation will be addressed.
“I look at the recreation part of it and how we can maintain a better level on the Arrow Lakes for longterm, because when it drops and all those fluctuations — I would think if there’s a way to do that, I would love to see that in the negotiations,” he said.
In its tweet, the U.S. Department of State said, “The United States and #Canada will begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018.”
Asked for clarification on what was meant by “modernize,” a State Department spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs replied: “We will look at more than 50 years of successful implementation and work with our Canadian colleagues on modernization. Maintaining a similar level of flood risk in the United States post-2024 is an important component; as is rebalancing the power benefits between the two countries. We’ll also look at better addressing ecosystem considerations and see how adaptive management can help ensure our cooperative management of the river is responsive to new information or changing conditions.”
One local organization with a historic tie to the Treaty will have nothing to do with the renegotiation.
While the Columbia Basin Trust was established in 1995 in recognition of the impacts the Treaty had on the Columbia Basin region, the Trust is now completely self-funded, and renegotiation of the Treaty will have no impact on the Trust.