Time may be running out on the Columbia River Treaty, but a flood of issues to maintain viability between Canada and the United States will not yet be sunk under the bridge.
Sixty years of Assured Flood Control is due to expire in 2024, but the two countries have been in talks to modernize the historic cross-border agreement since May 2018, covering a range of topics during 10 rounds of meetings.
The main areas of interest are flood risk management, hydropower and ecosystems, while Canada also raised the issues of increased coordination of Libby Dam operations and increased flexibility for Canadian operations.
The treaty – which governs when and how much water flows through the Mica, Duncan and Hugh Keenleyside dams to prevent damaging flooding and improve hydroelectric power generation – means Canada is operating with earmarked space in its reservoirs of treated to reduce the risk of flooding in the United States. , but it also has ramifications in Nelson and the region.
“West Kootenay residents are witnessing these operations as water levels fluctuate along Arrow Lakes and Duncan Reservoirs and Kootenay Lake,” said Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the Provincial River Treaty Team. Columbia and responsible for British Columbia on the Canadian delegation to negotiate the Columbia River Treaty.
“While there are impacts associated with these fluctuations, the treaty has enabled local GHG-free power generation along the Kootenay Canal and mitigated flooding on Kootenay Lake and below the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers at Castlegar. , Genelle and Trail.”
The treaty also manages water levels at certain times of the year to target fish populations in both countries for whitefish and rainbow trout (Canada) and salmon (United States).
Discussions between the two countries should modernize the treaty in a way that could result in a change in the timing and amount of water released from Canadian reservoirs to meet ecosystem objectives and support Indigenous cultural values and socio-economic interests, Eichenberger said, while providing flood risk management and power generation. “Additional flexibility would also allow Canadian operations to adapt to future unknowns, such as the effects of climate change,” she said.
While she couldn’t say what stage the negotiations were at, Eichenberger said the Canadian and U.S. teams were respectful and “really working in good faith to come to an agreement on a modernized treaty that creates benefits for both.” country and shares them equitably”.
There have been many societal and ecological changes since the first agreement was signed in 1964, she noted, and this must be reflected in the new agreement, as well as the local administration of the basin and the contribution of citizens.
“Although the details of the negotiations are confidential, we can say that a challenge in these discussions is how to adapt to these new realities, as well as to look at the medium and long term future,” said Eichenberger. .
“And always considering the fundamental principle of the treaty to create benefits for both countries and to share them equitably.”
There is no deadline for negotiations nor a requirement as to the number of rounds that will be involved.
“The province is committed to engaging with basin residents before a final agreement is reached, so residents can clearly understand what the proposed modernized treaty will contain,” Eichenberger said.
“There is currently no timetable for when this will happen; however, we will communicate it widely once that time has been set.
When the treaty expires in 2024, if a new one isn’t reached to replace it, it could trigger a more impromptu ‘called’ regime, which would force the US to ‘effectively use’ its reservoirs to manage disaster risks. flooding, drafting them deeper and more frequently, before “calling on” Canada for additional storage to avoid destructive flooding.
It’s not ideal for the United States and also impacts British Columbia, Eichenberger said.
“The Canadian and US negotiating teams are discussing different concepts to eventually provide a form of assured flood risk management that meets the needs of both countries,” she said. “Coordinated operations for power generation are also part of these discussions.”
On the Canadian side, greater flexibility is sought in the treaty for domestic operations to meet basin interests in areas such as ecosystem enhancement, Indigenous cultural values and socio-economic objectives.
“Exploring Mechanisms to Achieve Ecosystem Objectives refers to the important work being done by Indigenous Nations in the Canadian Basin, in collaboration with federal and provincial agencies and consultants, to determine the type of operation needed to support healthy ecosystems. “said Eichenberger.
Canada and the United States met for the 12th round of negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty on January 10.
Building on the discussions that took place during the previous round in December 2021, the one-day virtual session focused on the evolution of flood risk management concepts after 2024, Canada’s desire to have more operational flexibility and mechanisms to achieve ecosystem objectives.
During the June 2020 round of negotiations, Canada tabled a proposal outlining a framework for a modernized treaty, developed collaboratively by Canada, British Columbia and Columbia Basin Indigenous Nations.
The Canadian negotiating team, which includes representatives from the governments of Canada, British Columbia and the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations, continues to collaborate on activities that inform these historic discussions.
– The next round of negotiations will take place soon. Read the newsletter here: https://news.gov.bc.ca/26077
– To learn more about the Columbia River Treaty: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/
Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily