Treaty a ‘once in a generation’ chance

Hundreds of Columbia River Basin residents have been gathering to learn about the Columbia River Treaty.

Hundreds of Columbia River Basin residents have been gathering in community halls across the region to learn about the Columbia River Treaty.

As many of you will know, Canada and the United States signed the Columbia River Treaty in 1964. Both countries shared an interest in improving flood control and hydro-electric power generation. In British Columbia, we built three storage dams: Keenleyside, Duncan and Mica. In return for this water storage, Canada is entitled to one half of the estimated value of the additional power that could be generated at US power plants on the Columbia River as a result of the additional storage.

These entitlements currently amount to between $150 and $300 million annually, which is paid by the US into general revenues for the Province of British Columbia. After almost 50 years, we are approaching the first opportunity to renegotiate or terminate the Columbia River Treaty. Either the United States or Canada can decide they want to make changes, but they must give 10 years notice in 2014.

Residents of the Columbia River Basin have seen our valleys flooded, and we live with the impacts of the dams to this day. Most would agree that area residents were completely left out of the original treaty process. Residents were not consulted. Landowners had no choice but to move.

The only way we can be sure that the Kootenays are not left out again is to get educated and to get organized. Residents must take the time to fully understand the treaty and its implications. And we must take every opportunity to speak out for the needs of our communities.

The renegotiation of this treaty is the best chance we have to be more fully compensated for the losses that have been borne by this area. This is the time to discuss not only flood control and power generation but also the social, economic and environmental impacts of the treaty.

The Columbia Basin Trust is engaging in an education process, and attendance at these sessions has been very good. The meetings that I have attended show that citizens care deeply about the treaty and its impacts.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It is a time for long-standing grievances surrounding the lack of adequate compensation to the people of the Columbia Basin to be addressed.  We must ensure that the area that has been most heavily affected by flooding is receiving the majority of the benefits from the Columbia River Treaty.

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Norm Macdonald is MLA for the Columbia River – Revelstoke Riding