Reservoir behind Mica Dam, one of dams constructed under terms of the Columbia River Treaty. (Bonneville Power Ad)

B.C., U.S. negotiators want big changes to Columbia River Treaty

Flood control deal expires in 2024, value of electricity falling

Canadian and U.S. negotiators are wading into a maze of conflicting interests as they prepare to “modernize” the Columbia River Treaty and repair the environmental damage.

Lead negotiators visited the Libby and Grand Coulee dams on the U.S. side and the Keenleyside, Revelstoke and Mica dams this week, then joined provincial, state and local officials for a get-acquianted session in Spokane.

There they heard stories of devastated valleys, lost forests, towns and salmon runs, and ongoing disruption of local economies and the environment.

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak described reservoirs with levels fluctuating the equivalent of a 15-storey building, leaving vast mud flats and dust storms as waters are released after flood storage.

That was after 12 communities were flooded along with surrounding prime forest, cutting off transportation routes and swallowing up prime bottom farmland throughout the region.

“These are industrial reservoirs. They are not lakes,” Kozak told the meeting dominated by U.S. state officials, tribal representatives and environmental organizations. “These were advertised as lakes with great recreational opportunities when the dams were created. They are not.”

Representatives of Montana, Idaho and Washington told similar stories of lost forest, tourism and transportation from the massive damming of the Columbia River basin since the treaty was implemented in 1963. Treaty reservoirs inundated 110,000 hectares (270,000 acres) on the Canadian side and displaced more than 2,000 residents plus Indigenous communities, without consultation or assistance.

Negotiators stressed the need to adapt the treaty’s hydroelectric provisions to reflect the modern power market, and to maintain flood control and shipping on the U.S. side.

The core of the original treaty is payment via the value of electricity generated in exchange for Canada holding back water to prevent a repeat of devastating floods in 1948.

“We paid for flood control storage in Canada until 2024, but after that, the treaty’s flood control provisions change to a less defined approach in terms of operations and compensation,” said Jill Smail, Columbia River Treaty negotiator for the U.S. State Department.

Canada’s role is mostly delegated to B.C., represented by Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy. She noted that the value of power assigned to B.C. has been declining in value each year.

“All of the revenue to B.C. was worth as much as $250 million a decade ago,” Conroy said. “Today it is worth about $115 million annually, and that number looks likely to drop further in the coming years.

“And while the negative impacts of the treaty have not diminished over the years, the revenue B.C. receives has diminished.”

D.R. Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, agreed with another speaker that his region was a “sacrifice zone” for the lower region.

“It’s not just a machine to spin turbines and protect Portland,” Michel said. “They permanently took the floods that happened annually down river and moved them up into our area, so we feel those impacts and those losses every day.”

BC legislatureBCHydro

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fundraising during a pandemic: how Langley’s Driedger Farms handled it

Second annual event for Langley Hospice raised $3,500

Vancouver Giants co-owner Michael Bublé to receive Order of B.C.

Canadian artist joined ownership group in December 2008

LETTER: Speeders have Fort Langley resident concerned about safety

Letter writer says it’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens if change isn’t made

Real estate sales spike in Langley in July

People are busy buying and selling properties again

Heavy police response at Aldergrove army base after single-vehicle incident

Vehicle rolled over into ditch near 40 Avenue on 272 Street Sunday afternoon

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Salmon arrive in larger numbers at Big Bar landslide

Arrival follows historic hihg-water levels that halted migration runs

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

COVID-19 exposure at Surrey rave prompts warning from Fraser Health

Party was held at Royal Beauty Supply in Whalley

Famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer brings movements of joy to Long Beach

Internet-famous dancer is exploring Vancouver Island, visiting the B.C. Legislature and more

Most Read