With the possibility of a renewed Columbia River Treaty less than a decade away, national, provincial and regional groups are giving increased attention to the matter, not least during a recent meeting of Kootenay local government representatives who travelled to Ottawa.
A few weeks ago Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee chair and Nelson mayor Deb Kozak, committee vice chair and Nakusp mayor Karen Hamling, and Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski (who previously was a member of the committee during his tenure as Cranbrook mayor) met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs parliamentary secretary PamelaGoldsmith-Jones and other federal officials in the national capital to voice their concern on a range of other treaty-related issues.
Kozak, Hamling and Stetski all pointed out that Basin residents and First Nations were not consulted in the course of negotiating the original Columbia River Treaty in 1964, saying that’s something that should happen during the renegotiation process.
The trip was meant to keep the relevant federal official informed on the issue “so it doesn’t become lost among the many issues here in Ottawa. It was good of them (Kozak and Hamling) to do that. We need to keep the spotlight on the treaty, andI intend to do that in Parliament as well,” said Stetski.
The treaty came into effect in 1964 and is set to expire in 2024.
Stetski told The Echo that an important deadline in the lead-up to renegotiations had already come and gone in 2014,since if either party of the treaty had wanted to make significant changes to it during renegotiation, it was supposed to give a decade’s notice.
“In terms of where we are now, basically we’re waiting to see what the other side wants to have happen,” said Stetski,adding that although the treaty, on the Canadian side, will be primarily negotiated by the B.C. provincial government, the federal government still needs to approve it.
Issues to consider during renegotiations, brought up by those on the Canadian side of the treaty (which were all discussed during the Local Governments’ Committee members trip to Ottawa) include the aforementioned local residents consultations as well as First Nations consultations, and discussion around the possibility of re- introducing salmon to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.
“None of these things were done, or really discussed, 60 years ago,” said Stetksi, adding the Ktunaxa First Nation has proactively produced a report highlighting what it hopes to see come out of treaty renegotiations, and that foremost in this report is a desire to see salmon return to Columbia Lake.
“What an incredible day that would be,” said Stetski. “It is doable, but it technologically it would be quite expensive.”
There is also desire, already expressed by the Columbia River Local Governments’ Committee and other groups on both sides of the border, to have ecosystem costs and benefits considered during the renegotiations, according to Stetski.
“There’s also an increasing demand on the Columbia River for irrigation, usually used on the other side of the border, for potatoes and fruit crops, and those potatoes and fruit then come back into Canada at lower prices than what we can produce here,” he said. “So there is the questions of should there be additional compensation to help agriculture here, since irrigation wasn’t covered in the initial treaty? Or should there be some sort of special tariff put in place to help equalize the situation?”
Stetski said that, in the end, both sides need to put together a list of elements to be added to the treaty and begin negotiations from there.
He expressed confidence that the treaty would indeed be renegotiated, and not just be allowed to lapse into expiry.
“If that happened, all the benefits that flow from the treaty would be put at risk. Right now there is a great deal of co-operation happening, both in terms of power generation and flood control. It’s hard to envision that being lost,” said Stetski, adding that part of what prompted the treaty in the first place was severe flooding on the lower reaches of theColumbia, which in some cases nearly wiped out communities.
“Without that co-operation, there would be a lot of chaos,” he said.
The treaty was signed in January 1961, just over three years before it came into effect.