At the CBT’s most recent public forum on the Columbia River Treaty (held at the Visitor’s Center, late last fall), a number of Valemount residents expressed strong feelings about the effects of the reservoir, and an interest in exploring an opportunity that we may have right now, as a community. Now, with a very short time frame, Owen Torgerson and Jared Smith are working with the Village to present a business case to the Province, outlining the continuing negative impacts Valemount is experiencing as a result of the filling of the Kinbasket Reservoir, and some ideas about how the province can help us, invest in us. They are gathering information and studies that have already been done, talking with representatives from other affected areas, and this week, meeting with some of the local residents that expressed interest in talking about this opportunity. Why is right now such a good opportunity? Timing.

September 16, 2014 is an important date – it is the earliest that either Canada or the United States can decide (with the required 10 years notice) to terminate the Columbia River Treaty. The Treaty is an agreement that coordinates flood control and optimizes hydroelectric power production in the Columbia Basin, which encompasses south-eastern BC, as well seven states across the US border. Under the Treaty (ratified in 1964) Canada agreed to build three dams: Hugh Keenleyside, Duncan and Mica, which created the Aarow Lakes, Duncan, and Kinbasket Reservoirs respectively. The US was also allowed to build Libby Dam in Montana, creating Koocanusa Reservoir which stratles the border. In exchange for flooding our own river systems to create these massive reservoirs, BC technically gets half of the power that is generated on the US side of the Columbia, but because of the logistics of dealing with power transmission, it’s actually a dollar amount – the Canadia Entitlement. That money goes into provincial coffers.

A lot has changed since 1964. Estimates of land and property values saved from flooding downstream on the Columbia river have greatly increased, as has capacity (and need) for power generation on both sides of the border. And things are a lot more complicated too. For one thing, there was no consideration of environmental impacts when the Treaty was signed, and no consideration of how the land around the reservoirs might be used in the future.

Undoubtabley BC has benefited from the Canadian Entitlement, but it can be argued that the US has received far greater benefits, and has experienced far less negative impacts. And while BC as a whole benefits from the Canadian Entitlement, many who live in the most affected areas – upstream of the Treaty dams – feel that the benefit they’ve seen has not compensated for the losses. The CBT was created in the 1990’s in recognition of the effects on residents of the upper basin, and while they are invaluable in providing information, assistance, funding for non-profit groups and a number of other programs, it might not be enough to mitigate the effects on some areas, especially in this last five years of global economic recession.

For Valemount specifically, the building of Mica Dam turned the lower Canoe into the northern reach of the Kinbasket Reservoir. We once had a valley bottom and river, marshes, hot springs, hunting, fishing, forestry, roads and countless other potential opportunities, just a few miles to the south of us, and that is a lot of potential we lost. If the Kinbasket Reservoir could be kept at a more stable level, there would be a whole different set of potentials we could benefit from. But the Kinbasket is the workhorse of the Columbia power and flood control machine; it has the biggest volume and experiences the greatest fluctuation in level because that is what is needed to meet the conditions of the Treaty, and to generate peak-hour electricity for the province.

The business case currently being constructed will attempt to highlight some projects that the province can invest in that will benefit the Valemount area specifically. It will be presented to the provincial government in time to make it (and the Treaty itself) an issue before the upcoming election in May.

Part of the work on this business case has included discussions with other affected areas, the town of Golden, in particular. They are at the other end of the Kinbasket Reservoir, and are similar to Valemount in a lot of ways, and they are struggling too. I had the privlidge of accompanying Owen Torgerson on his recent visit to Golden to talk about how we might colaborate (two communities working together). See Story Here