Renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct social ills caused by original damming

MLA Norm Macdonald

In 1964, Canada and the US signed the Columbia River Treaty (CRT).  Under the CRT, Canada agreed to build three storage dams, Keenleyside, Duncan and Mica, to assist the US with their efforts in flood control and power generation.  In return for the storage of water, Canada is entitled to one half of the additional power generated at the US power plants on the Columbia River.  These entitlements currently amount to about $300 million annually which are paid into general revenue for the Province of British Columbia.

As all Columbia Basin residents know, the flooding of our valley bottoms had huge impacts on our economy and our environment.  Other impacts include the loss of agricultural and forest lands, the displacement of 2300 residents, and the loss of numerous First Nations cultural sites.

In the Legislature last week, my fellow Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy stated: ‘People still in our community talk about the devastation of what those dams did to our communities.  They talk about how it benefitted the entire province, but it didn’t really benefit the Kootenays.  We just want to make sure that what happened in 1964 does not happen again to the people of the Kootenays in 2011 and onwards through to 2024.’

The first opportunity to renegotiate or terminate the CRT will occur in 2024, but Canada must give 10 years notice of their intent.  That means, in 2014, Canada has a big decision to make.

This is a once-in -a-generation opportunity to correct the social, environmental and economic impacts of damming in the Basin.  This is a chance for longstanding grievances surrounding the lack of adequate compensation to be addressed.

But how do Basin residents ensure that we are ready to make a decision in 2014?  How do we guarantee that the best interests of Basin residents are a priority?

The only way we can be sure that the Kootenays are not forgotten in this process is to get educated and get organized.  We need to participate in every consultative opportunity that is provided by the Province, by BC Hydro and by the Columbia Basin Trust.  But Basin residents must also organize themselves.

We have learned many lessons from the early days of the Columbia River Treaty, but the greatest lesson is that we cannot leave the negotiation to the powers that be.  Each of us needs to be an active participant speaking out for our families, our communities, our environment and our future opportunities.

To learn more about the Columbia River Treaty, go to

Norm Macdonald is the New Democratic MLA for Columbia River – Revelstoke. You can reach him through his website at