Columbia River Treaty to be renegotiated with U.S. in early 2018

The U.S. government has announced plans to renegotiate and "modernize" the Columbia River Treaty in early 2018.

Treaty signed in 1964 dictates flood control and hydroelectric dam operations in B.C. and U.S.

The Columbia River, looking upstream at the Waneta industrial area, which is just five kilometres from the U.S. border. (Rhiannon Coppin/CBC)

The U.S. Department of State has announced it will begin negotiations to modernize the decades-old Columbia River Treaty beginning in early 2018, a move Nelson B.C.'s mayor calls "promising."

In 1964, Canada and the U.S. signed the treaty which created reservoirs hundreds of kilometres long in B.C. and Montana. 

It currently dictates flood control and hydroelectric dam operations but is set to expire in 2024.

"I think it's promising that the United States wants to discuss the treaty and discuss possible improvements," said Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak, who also chairs the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments' committee for the treaty.

"I think of note, is that the United States in its press release stated that there are more benefits [to this treaty] than solely power production and flood control ... that includes such things as navigation, agricultural and recreational attributes."

'We'll see how this plays out'

The U.S. has not offered much detail about the upcoming discussions, but previous U.S. governments have said they would like to see a deal that better benefits Americans.

"We'll see how this plays out. This is a 50-year-old treaty, and I think that the benefits of the treaty are well established. I don't see how those can be refuted," said Kozak.

"We've reached out to our neighbours in the United States, and I feel like they have a far greater understanding of the impacts to Canada than they once did because ... we've made a tremendous amount of effort to educate them about what happens here when the reservoirs fill up and drop down dramatically."

When four dams were built in B.C.'s Kootenay region following the original treaty in 1964, 10,000 hectares of farmland and forest were flooded, profoundly changing the local landscape.

The Duncan Dam, in the Purcell Mountains, is one of four dams included in the Columbia River Treaty. (Government of B.C.)

Under terms of the current treaty, the U.S. government still holds great sway over water levels thousands of kilometres away in southeast B.C.

Kozak is hoping the value of ecosystems and "quite simply the value of water" will be top priorities as the treaty is renegotiated, a process she says could take weeks.

"I think that because the treaty is fairly complex and long-lasting and the enhanced things that we're asking for on both sides of the border, [it] will take some time to discuss."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Columbia River Treaty created large reservoirs in several U.S. states. In fact, the only U.S. state with a Columbia River Treaty dam is Montana. The story has also been updated to clarify the details of the treaty's expiration.
    May 29, 2018 3:01 PM PT

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.