Local governments meet feds on future of CRT
Local government representatives Mayor Deb Kozak and Mayor Karen Hamling met with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, federal officials and regional MPs in late November to emphasize the importance of working with local governments in the Columbia Basin before reaching decisions about the future of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT).
The meeting with federal staff included nine representatives from Global Affairs Canada, the agency with the lead role in international treaties, as well as from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Key messages to the federal government included ensuring a voice for Basin residents in future Treaty discussions, reducing impacts from Treaty-related dams, enhancing ecosystem function through Treaty operations, and equitable sharing of any benefits flowing from the Treaty. Commitments were made with these federal contacts to continue to exchange information on behalf of the people of the Basin.
“Basin residents and First Nations weren’t consulted before the Treaty was signed in the 1960s. We’ve worked closely with the Provincial CRT Review Team for over five years to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future. We were relieved to hear the federal representatives state that ‘there is no light between the federal and provincial interests in the Treaty’, which we have heard from the Provincial Review Team as well,” said Deb Kozak, Chair of the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee and Mayor of Nelson.
The Columbia River Treaty is a trans-boundary water management agreement that was ratified in 1964 by the United States and Canada to optimize flood management and power generation in both counties. Close agreement between the B.C. and Canadian governments is essential because, although international treaties are the responsibility of the federal government, natural resource management including water management is the jurisdiction of the province. In the case of the CRT, the Canada-British Columbia Agreement (1963) transferred most CRT benefits, rights and obligations to British Columbia, requiring Canada to obtain B.C.’s agreement before amending or terminating the Treaty.
“Everyone we met with was very interested, attentive and appreciative of the opportunity to speak directly with us about the initial and ongoing impacts and benefits that people in the Basin experience from the dam and reservoir operations that are authorized by the Treaty,” added Karen Hamling, Vice-Chair of the Committee and Mayor of Nakusp, a community that is substantially impacted by the Treaty. ‘They agreed with the importance of involving local governments and Basin residents in Treaty discussions going forward.”
These meetings were prompted by a discussion between Mayor Kozak and Parliamentary Secretary Pam Goldsmith-Jones, past Mayor of West Vancouver, about the importance of federal government staff who are responsible for international Treaty negotiations, hearing directly from impacted communities.
“It is very helpful to have local level expertise be able to inform our federal strategy. On behalf of Minister Dion, we welcome this wide range of input,” expressed Parliamentary Secretary Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.
The meeting with Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, South Okanagan- West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings and their aides included a review of the Local Governments’ Committee recommendations and a discussion about impacts on BC agriculture through the loss of productive farms and fertile valley bottom lands under reservoirs authorized by the Treaty and subsidized production in the U.S. which is not a direct Treaty impact.
Refinements to the Treaty can be mutually agreed to at any time. Either Canada or the U.S. can unilaterally terminate most of the provisions of the Treaty any time after September 16, 2024, providing at least ten years’ notice is given. This opportunity prompted Treaty review processes in B.C. and the U.S. leading up to 2014.
The BC CRT Local Governments’ Committee was created in 2011 to ensure Basin residents are consulted during any discussions about the future of the Treaty. The Committee’s recommendations on the future of the Treaty are available from the Committee’s webpage.
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is an international agreement between Canada and the United States to coordinate flood control and optimize hydroelectric power generation on both sides of the border. Under the 1964 Treaty, three dams were constructed in Canada, including Mica Dam, Duncan Dam and Hugh Keenleyside Dam. A fourth dam, Libby, was constructed in Montana. Its reservoir, the Koocanusa, extends 67 kilometres into Canada. Since its ratification in 1964, the CRT has influenced the management of the Columbia and Kootenay River systems in both Canada and the United States. Residents in the Columbia Basin, on both sides of the border, will be directly affected by any decision related to the future of the CRT and will shape transboundary water management across the entire Columbia Basin for decades to come.
The CRT has no official expiry date, but has a minimum length of 60 years, which will be met in September 2024. Either Canada or the United States can terminate many of the provisions of the agreement effective any time after September 2024, provided written notice is filed at least 10 years’ in advance (2014). While no decision has been made by either Canada or the United States on the future of the current Treaty, given the importance of the issues, both countries have conducted studies and continue to explore future options for the CRT.
The CRT Local Governments’ Committee (the Committee), with support from Columbia Basin Trust, is working with, and on behalf of local governments through appointed representatives from the four regional districts in the Basin, the Village of Valemount and the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG). The Committee is working together to bring regional views, values and interests with respect to the CRT to provincial and federal agencies. With the support of Columbia Basin Trust, the Committee is helping Basin residents and local governments engage in decisions about the future of the CRT.
Lead image: Richland, Washington, during the May/June 1948 Columbia River flood. The massive flood event led to a call for greater flood control and more dams, which led to the construction of the dams in British Columbia, where vast tracts of valley-bottom land was lost. US National Weather Service image
CRT Local Governments’ Committee