Betweem 40-45 concerned citizens from the Slocan Valley, East Shore, Castlegar and the Heritage City gave up a balmy, spring evening in the Kootenays to attend a community meeting regarding Columbia Treaty River negotiations Friday at the Nelson Rod and Gun Club.
Friday’s meeting in Nelson is part of a series meetings held across the Columbia Basin to update communities about the recently launched negotiations on the future of the Columbia River Treaty.
“The meetings have been very well received,” Kathy Eichenberger, Executive Director for the Columbia River Treaty Review told The Nelson Daily Friday during the meeting-and-greet part of the meeting. “People want to have a chance to talk about what their interests are and to give advice and direction to the BC negotiating team about what interests to bring to the table.”
Nelson was the fifth stop on the nine-meeting tour. The community meetings opened June 11 in Lardeau, stopping in Jaffray, Creston and Castlegar before Friday’s meeting in the Heritage City. Meetings are scheduled for this week in Valemount, Revelstoke and Golden before concluding Thursday in Nakusp at the Sports Complex.
Eichenberger said officials have received tremendos feedback from the public.
“We really want to get as much input as possible,” she said. “People are really focused on not just listening to what I would have to say but also to participate and provide input and ask a lot of question until they understand what is going on.”
The meeting opened with a light meal before officials were introduced to the public. Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak, chair of the local governments committee (LGC) spoke, Eichenberger spoke on the negotiations to date. Those attending the meeting then gave input that will be taken back to the committee.
“People want to make sure we carry their interests with us when we go into negotiations and they want to be heard . . .,” Eichenberger explained. “They want to be kept updated as negotiations proceed . . .. It seems that did not happen last time.”
“They want to make sure they are kept in the loop all the way through (the negotiating process),” Eichenberger added.
The Columbia River Treaty is a trans-boundary, water-management agreement between the United States and Canada, ratified in 1964. The treaty comprises flood management and power generation, requiring coordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River, on both sides of the border.
In March 2014, following extensive First Nations consultation and community engagement, and after conducting a number of technical studies, the Government of British Columbia announced its decision to continue the treaty, and seek improvements within the existing framework. This decision is supported by the Government of Canada.
Eichenberger said when the treaty was initially negotiated, the focus was on power and flood control. However, citizens have expanded their concerns to include ecosystems, the environment, the return of salmon and First Nations interests.
The first round of negotiations was held May 29-30 in Washington, DC. Despite the rhetoric coming out of the White House this past week, regarding trade between Canada and the USA, Eichenberger doesn’t expect this to affect negotiations.
“The treaty has always been a very collaborative process between the U.S. and Canada, and when we met (May 29-30 in Washington DC), we both committed to continuing that collaboration,” she said. “We have no indication that any other disagreements on trade, for example, would filter in to our discussions on the Columbia River Treaty.”
The next meeting is scheduled at a TBA location in the Columbia Basin, August 15-16.
Eichenberger could not elaborate on the time it would take to reach an agreement, only the two sides will come together, alternating countries each meeting.
“There is no handbook for these negotiations, but generally every six to eight weeks we’ll be meeting once in United States and then the next meeting in Canada . . . often in B.C.,” she said. “So, we have some meetings planned for the rest of the year, but beyond that it will depend on whether we discover more studies need to be done or if we need to confirm with other groups, but generally planning to meet for two day meetings every six to eight weeks.”