by Andru McCracken
The Columbia River Treaty is an international agreement between Canada and the United States to coordinate flood control and optimize hydroelectric power on both sides of the border, and if you’ve ever been down Kinbasket Reservoir in the spring, you’ll recognize it has some very acute repercussions for local people.
Images of the sandstorms and miles of lifeless, parched earth on the edges of the Kinbasket Reservoir are being used to show American negotiators the incredible impact the treaty has had on BC.
Every year the reservoir fills up over the spring and summer and is drained down again until the first 15 km of the reservoir bed are dry on the north end.
According to Kathy Eichenberger a key member of the Columbia River Treaty negotiating team, photos of Kinbasket are useful.
“Pictures of Kinbasket during drawdown are used over and over again. We use them as a negotiating tool, we use them when we go to the US. It’s one of the most familiar photos in the US of the Columbia River Treaty.”
Kinbasket Reservoir was created in 1973 when the Mica Dam was constructed to control flooding, especially on the U.S. side. Before then, the area south of Valemount contained the Canoe River and merchantable timber.
The treaty was signed 50 years ago, and with 10 years left on the treaty, the two sides have begun renegotiations. That process of renegotiation brought a provincial delegation to Valemount on June 18, 2018 to talk about the impacts and seek feedback.
Eichenberger spoke to the impacts of the treaty at the first meeting in Washington, DC.
“At that meeting I was given the floor to talk at length about all the different impacts that the treaty has basically created,” she said.
Eichenberger said not a lot happened during the first meeting which was held in Washington, DC.
“They started with a high level presentation on flood control. What reservoirs are for, how they receive freshet.
There are many people that know a lot, but there are others that are new.”
The next meeting will be held in the Columbia Basin and hosted by Canada.
“It’s Canada’s turn, we’ll be talking about what kind of objectives we have for the basin and for Canada,” she said.
They’ll also talk about what the Canadian side means when it talks about ecosystems, because she said it is clear the two sides have different definitions.
“In the US when they talk about ecosystems they are primarily talking about flows for fish,” she said.
In Canada ecosystems refer to any number of values from riparian areas to wildlife habitat and vegetation.
“We need to find common ground or at least understand what we mean when we use common terms,” she said.
Despite a raging tariff war between Canada and the US, the atmosphere has been constructive.
“The discussions are very collegial, very friendly,” she said.
As for the process to renegotiate, Eichenberger said the treaty didn’t come with instructions on how to renegotiate it.
“Together we will develop the process,” she said.
What is known is that the two sides will meet every six to eight weeks.
The next meeting between Canada and the US will be held mid August.
Some residents gathered at the meeting voiced their demand for a weir to create a year-round recreational area, something promised when the reservoir was first proposed. At one point resident Chris Torgerson started chanting, “Weir, weir, weir…”
One of the key concerns raised by local residents who attended was air quality and health risks posed by silica sand.