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Kootenay River ‘interests’ to take centre stage in upcoming Columbia River Treaty talks

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
January 21st, 2023

The plight and height of the Kootenay River will be the current of conversation when the Columbia River Treaty talks go virtual early next month.

A virtual information session is slated for Feb. 2 — with another on Jan. 30 on the Columbia River — to provide details and answer questions about the process, with the focus on Kootenay River “interests.”

Those interests — as well as information on the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments Committee’s initiative — will be revealed in the two webinars, along with the performance measures that have been identified to date.

People can provide feedback through an online survey following the webinars.

“As Canada and the United States continue negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty, the Canadian negotiating team, which includes Canada, B.C. and the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations, are exploring different ways of operating the Canadian Treaty dams to support domestic objectives for ecosystems, Indigenous cultural values, and socio-economic interests, in addition to enabling power generation and protection from damaging floods,” noted a press release from the province.

Although 60 years of Assured Flood Control is set to expire in 2024 Canada and the U.S. have been in talks to modernize the historical transboundary agreement since May 2018, covering a range of topics over the course of 14 rounds of meetings.

The key areas of interest are flood risk management, hydroelectric power and ecosystems, while Canada has also raised the issues of increasing co-ordination of Libby Dam operations and increasing flexibility for Canadian operations.

The treaty — which governs the timing and volume of water that passes through the Mica, Duncan and Hugh Keenleyside dams to prevent damaging floods and enhances hydroelectric power generation — means Canada operates with reserved space in its treaty reservoirs to reduce flood risk in the United States, but it also has ramifications in Nelson and area.

“People in the West Kootenay witness these operations as water levels fluctuate along Arrow Lakes and Duncan reservoirs and Kootenay Lake,” said Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the provincial Columbia River Treaty team and B.C.’s lead on the Canadian Columbia River Treaty negotiation delegation.

“While there are impacts associated with those 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 in Castlegar, Genelle and Trail.”

The treaty also manages water level at certain times of the year to target fish populations in both countries for whitefish and rainbow trout (Canada) and salmon (U.S.).

The discussions between the two countries are expected to modernize the treaty in a way that could lead to a shift in when and how much water is released from the Canadian reservoirs to address ecosystem and support objectives for Indigenous cultural values and socioeconomic interests, but still provide flood risk management and power generation.

There are still challenging conversations to be had, but negotiating teams from both sides of the border are working to get closer to a consensus, said West Kootenay MLA, Katrine Conroy, Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty.

“Canada and the U.S. have exchanged several proposals that make clear their respective priorities for a modernized treaty; however, I want to stress that before any agreement is finalized, we will engage with residents and stakeholders in the Columbia Basin about the proposed framework,” she said in a statement Friday.

The 15th round of negotiations is scheduled to be held on Jan. 25 and 26 in Vancouver.


• Integrating social and economic objectives within a modernized Columbia River Treaty

Columbia River interests — Jan. 30, 6 – 8 p.m.

This session will focus on interests associated with the Columbia River.

Register Now

• Integrating social and economic objectives within a modernized Columbia River Treaty

Kootenay River interests — Feb. 2, 6 – 8 p.m.

This session will focus on interests associated with the Kootenay River.

Register Now

The public information sessions are arranged to “integrate social and economic interests into river management scenario modelling for the Columbia River Treaty renewal,” the province’s website on the treaty explained.

If you can follow that train of thought, the sessions take place from 6 – 8 p.m., with the option to attend online or by phone.

• Link to Register and learn more.

Return of the salmon

First Nations are asking for the return of the salmon to the entire Columbia River system as part of the Columbia River Treaty negotiations, including the upper portion of the Arrow Lakes, in order to reclaim their culture.

In a Zoom meeting on May 16, 2022 for the Columbia River Treaty negotiations, Chief Keith Crow of the Smelqmix, Lower Similkameen Indian Band, called for greater consideration of salmon in the river system.

“The Columbia River Treaty has been one of the biggest infringements within our territories, infringement of the treaty that was never negotiated with us,” he said.

The benefits that Canada and B.C. have received from the treaty have been tremendous, Crow said, but at the expense of the salmon and First Nations cultural traditions.

He pointed to the Columbia River salmon restoration initiative — which started three years ago — as an example of reversing that trend.

“I think it is another major piece to bringing the salmon back up the Columbia all the way into the Upper Arrow,” he said, which is a goal of the Smelqmix Nation.

Jay Johnston of the Penticton Indian Band agreed. Although the Columbia River Treaty was formed on two points — energy production and flood control — it has never considered the effect on First Nations.

“(I)t left out not only many voices in the (Columbia) Basin and around the river, but it also left out the environment and the ecosystems and the cultural values that are so critically important to all of us,” he said.

Source: The Nelson Daily, May, 2022

Bringing the salmon home

Bringing the Salmon Home: The Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction Initiative brought together five governments — the Syilx Okanagan Nation, Ktunaxa Nation, Secwépemc Nation, Canada and British Columbia — who have made a visionary agreement to explore salmon reintroduction into the upper Columbia River region.

The Letter of Agreement was signed at an official ceremony on July 29, 2019 in Castlegar. This commitment by the five governments is to work together to look at the feasibility and options for reintroducing salmon into the Canadian side of the Columbia River.

The long-term vision is to return fish stocks for indigenous food, social and ceremonial needs, and to benefit the region’s residents and ecosystems as a whole.


Deal, no deal

When the treaty expires in 2024, if a new one is not struck to replace it that could trigger a more impromptu “called upon” regime, which would require the U.S. to make “effective use” of their reservoirs to manage flood risk, drafting them more deeply and frequently, before “calling upon” Canada for additional storage to prevent damaging floods.

This is not ideal for the U.S. and also impacts B.C., said Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the provincial Columbia River Treaty team and B.C.’s lead on the Canadian Columbia River Treaty negotiation delegation.

“The Canadian and U.S. negotiating teams are discussing different concepts for potentially providing some 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 more flexibility is being sought in the treaty for domestic operations to meet Basin interests in areas such as ecosystem enhancement, Indigenous cultural values and socioeconomic objectives.

“Exploring mechanisms for achieving ecosystem objectives refers to the significant work being led by Canadian Basin Indigenous Nations, in collaboration with federal and provincial agencies and consultants, to determine what type of operation is needed to support healthy ecosystems,” said Eichenberger.

Source: The Nelson Daily, Nov. 2021

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