Local government representatives meet with federal officials on the future of the Columbia River Treaty

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 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,” Deb Kozak, chairwoman of the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee and mayor of Nelson, said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

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 countries. Close agreement between the BC 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 BC’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,” said Karen Hamling, vice-chairwoman of the committee and mayor of Nakusp, a community that is substantially affected 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 Global Affairs Minister (Stephane) Dion, we welcome this wide range of input,” Goldsmith-Jones said.

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 US which is not a direct treaty impact.

Refinements to the treaty can be mutually agreed to at any time. Either Canada or the US 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 BC and the US 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 at www.akblg.ca/content/columbia-river-treaty.

For information on the BC CRT Review please go to http://blog.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/.