The 14th round of talks to modernize the Columbia River Treaty were held in Spokane earlier this week and concluded with an Indigenous-led workshop on ecosystem and tribal cultural values.
In a statement, Katrine Conroy, the BC minister responsible for the negotiations, said all sides were able to come to mutual understanding on some of the terms up for renegotiation.
“During this week’s round of Columbia River Treaty negotiations, Canada and the United States have been able to find common ground on some aspects of ecosystem co-operation, increased flexibility for how Canada operates its treaty dams, hydropower co-ordination and flood-risk management,” Conroy said.
“The Canadian delegation, which includes the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C. and the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations, will continue to focus on outstanding issues in these areas over the coming months to address Columbia Basin interests.”
For it’s part, the United States State Department also issued a statement corroborating common ground.
“The United States is committed to working with Canada to achieve a modernized treaty regime that will support a healthy and prosperous Columbia River Basin and reflect our country’s commitment to the people who depend upon the natural resources of Columbia River Basin,” reads part of the statement.
After the formal negotiations concluded, the U.S. and Canadian delegations participated in an Indigenous-led workshop on the Columbia River ecosystems and Indigenous and tribal cultural values.
“During the Workshop, members of the U.S. and Canadian negotiating teams came together with representatives from Columbia Basin Indigenous Nations, Columbia Basin Tribes in the U.S., and government agencies, to exchange information and to inform future discussions on how co-ordination on these issues can be improved to benefit ecosystems on both sides of the border,” said Conroy.
“The fact that all parties came together to engage in these conversations is indicative of the interest in moving toward a modernized Columbia River Treaty that reflects a broad range of perspectives.”
The Columbia River Treaty, which was ratified in 1964, was a water sharing agreement that provided flood control management and power generation. It allowed for the construction of three hydroelectric dams — Duncan, Mica, and Keenleyside — in Canada and one — Libby — in the United States.
Under the terms, the United States prepaid Canada $64 million for 60 years to provide flood control operations, while also paying Canada half of the incremental power potential that could be produced, which is approximately $120 million annually.
However, the treaty has been historically criticized for a lack of consultation with Indigenous communities, as the flooding of reservoirs and over 110,000 hectares displaced communities and impacted cultural, agricultural, tourism and ecological values.
While the treaty has no expiry date, it can be unilaterally terminated in 2024 and onwards, provided 10 years of notice is given by either the U.S. or Canada.