Province weighs in on Columbia River Treaty’s future

The Province has released a three page draft of its recommendation on the future of the Columbia River Treaty – to continue the Treaty and seek improvements within the existing Treaty framework.

In November 2011, the province initiated a Columbia River Treaty Review process to evaluate future decision options, including possible continuation, amendment or termination of the Treaty. The Treaty has no expiry date, but certain aspects of the Treaty change in 2024, and both Canada and the US can terminate the Treaty after 2024, with a minimum of 10 years notice.

Over the past two years the Treaty Review Team has heard from a wide variety of residents and stakeholders regarding the future of the Treaty, and has worked with elected officials in the Columbia Basin through the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee. The Committee’s primary role is to advocate for local residents and to make recommendations on the future of the Treaty to the provincial review team and Ministers, but they have also provided an extensive list of issues related to dam and reservoir operations in the Canadian portion of the Columbia Basin. The Province and BC Hydro have committed to exploring and working with Basin communities on a number of these issues.

The Treaty Review Team has also been consulting on a government-to-government basis with potentially affected First Nations with the objective of avoiding further impacts to aboriginal rights and title, and exploring other interests for First Nations and how they may be addressed.

According to a press release from the province, the draft recommendation follows a recent trip to Washington D.C. by Premier Christy Clark where she advocated for treaty improvements in B.C. during a series of meetings with senior leadership in the United States Congress. The Columbia River Treaty Review Team is also continuing to engage U.S. parties to explain B.C.’s perspectives.

Along with the draft recommendation is a list of 14 principles that the province says underlie the draft recommendation, and will guide the province in any discussions, and any changes that the province may pursue. These include consideration of flood control, hydropower generation, ecosystems, climate change, compensation for ongoing impacts to BC and the full range of benefits to the US. The principles also note that the Province and BC Hydro will continue to engage First Nations and affected communities throughout any negotiation process, and will address issues not related to the Treaty through other programs. Of note, one of the principles is that restoration of salmon into the Columbia River is not a Treaty issue, since the Grand Coulee Dam in the US stopped salmon migration in 1938, 28 years prior to the ratification of the Treaty. If feasible, restoration of fish passage and habitat should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure.

Province has also released a 45 page draft report on its public consultation process and will hold additional community meetings in early November. The Province is seeking further feedback on its consultation process and on its recommendation until Nov. 20, 2013. After that, the Columbia River Treaty Review Team will prepare its final recommendation to Cabinet.

You can review the reports and provide feedback at http://blog.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty, or attend one of the community workshops, including Thursday Nov. 14 at the Valemount Village Office.

Both B.C.’s treaty review team and the U.S. Entity (Bonneville Power Administration and the US Army Corps of Engineers) are expected to make final recommendations to their respective governments in December.

By Korie Marshall