The eighth round of negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty wrapped up in Cranbrook on Wednesday, as representatives continued to work towards modernizing a decades-old water management agreement between Canada and the United States.
Delegates from the federal and provincial levels of government, along with the U.S. and First Nations, met for the talks in the ʔaq’am Community, where members from the Ktunaxa, Syilx/Okanagan and Secwepemc made presentations on the impacts of the treaty, according to Katrine Conroy, the provincial minister responsible for the negotiations.
“I think its great that the negotiations are back in the Basin,” said Conroy, the MLA for Kootenay West.
“…In the latest round of talks, the eighth round, the delegations talked about issues related to flood risk management and hydro power, as well as ecosystem co-operation. To that end, on behalf of Canada and B.C., there were representatives from the three First Nations, the Ktunaxa, Syilx/Okanagan and Secwepemc — they made presentations on ecosystem functions and salmon reintroduction.”
The Columbia River Treaty is a water management agreement that was signed between Canada and the United States in 1964. The treaty stipulated the construction of three dams on the Canadian side — Duncan, Hugh L. Keenleyside and Mica — while a fourth was constructed in Libby, MT.
In exchange for flood control, Canada also receives a share of incremental benefits from downstream power generation.
The treaty has been criticized for its lack of consultation with communities, particularly First Nations, when it came into effect over 50 years ago. The construction of the dams flooded approximately 110,000 hectares of land that impacted farms, tourism, forestry and Indigenous territory.
Conroy noted that the discussions around the treaty are important for future Basin residents who may be impacted by the renegotiated terms.
“I think it’s important, from my perspective as the Minister — and I’ve talked with [federal] Minister [Chrystia] Freeland about this — is that these are ongoing negotiations because these are negotiations that are going to affect generations to come, of people who live in the Basin,” Conroy said.
“50-60 years ago, when the initial discussions happened about the Columbia River Treaty, nobody was consulted. Nobody that lives in the Basin was consulted, the Indigenous people from the nation were not consulted and we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
“It’s critically important that the voices of the people in the Basin are part of the negotiations at the table.”
Conroy added that the ongoing talks are going to take time and that a ninth round of discussions will occur in the United States in November, either in Washington DC or in one of the four states impacted by the Treaty — Washington, Idaho, Montana or Oregon.
There are two public consultation and information sessions coming up in the East Kootenay regarding the Columbia River Treaty. The College of the Rockies will be hosting one on Oct. 22 from 5-8 p.m. while the Jaffray Community Hall will be hosting a session the next day at the same time.