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Positions emerge ahead of 2014 Columbia River Treaty deadline

As stakeholder groups on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have revealed their positions on the Columbia River Treaty in the past weeks, it’s becoming apparent the international boundary line isn’t necessarily the defining divide between stakeholder positions.

In the past weeks, two major stakeholders in the CRT process issued their recommendations.

The first is the U.S. Entity, which represents many diverse stakeholders south of the border. The second is the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee, who formed their recommendations to local government after hosting a series of community input gathering sessions in the Canadian Columbia Basin

Basin local government group defines position after resident consultation

The Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee (CRTLGC) released their recommendations to government on Dec. 11, asking for a bigger voice for Basin residents, reduced impacts from Treaty dams, better ecosystem function and more equitable sharing of benefits flowing from the 1964 treaty.

In an interview with the Revelstoke Times Review, committer chairperson Deb Kozak said that residents want to have continued input into the Columbia River Treaty process.

“We are asking for more consultation and working with the Basin [residents when] changes are planned,” she said. “We have asked for advisory status during those discussions.”

Kozak said Basin local governments want to be involved in international discussions to provide guidance and get feedback.

The CRTLGC is asking for an assessment of impacts and benefits of the current and future treaty be properly assessed.

Kozak said their meetings across the Basin in 2013 attracted about 2,300 to events, including in Revelstoke, which isn’t part of the Association of Kootenay—Boundary Local Governments, but was included in the process.

In terms of the content of the treaty, the CRTLGC divides their recommendations on treaty issues and negotiations into eight points:

— The  CRTLGC wants impacts on the Basin reduce, not increased.

— The  CRTLGC wants equitable benefit sharing that considers issues beyond flood control and power generation. They want benefits that the U.S. receives to be accounted for, such as tourism, recreation, navigation, ecosystems and agriculture. They note these issues were not accounted for in the original Columbia River Treaty deal in 1964. In our interview, Kozak said flood control alone is a massive benefit to the U.S.: “The United States feels they are paying too much, whereas if we take a look at the numbers up here and the analysis we’ve done, one major flood would cost billions of dollars down there if there was no coordinated response to flood control.”

— The  CRTLGC wants “ecosystem function” to be a “first-order value” that is incorporated in the treaty on the same level as flood control and power production. Kozak said that environmental concerns were barely on the radar in the 1960s when the CRT was negotiated, and the treaty needs to be updated to reflect contemporary values. “These are industrial working reservoirs,” she said. “It’s all about power production and flood control and it has huge impacts to this day.”

— The  CRTLGC wants a carefully-coordinated flood control planning when the existing flood control agreement expires in 2024.

– The U.S. Libby Dam must be brought into the treaty fully to ensure it’s operated in a similar way as other Treaty dams, in order to ensure Canadian interests are incorporated into its operational decisions. This recommendation focuses on the negative impacts of the portion of the dam’s reservoir located in Canada.

— That Columbia Basin Trust-owned dams are not negatively impacted.

— That existing Canadian rights to use water for domestic uses be maintained.

— The CRTLGC wants climate change considerations incorporated into treaty negotiations

— Salmon. The committee supports technical and financial feasibility of returning salmon to the Canadian portion of the Columbia River.

The CRTLGC review also identified a host of domestic issues expressed by residents, and urged the provincial government and BC Hydro to work with local government and residents on them.

In other words, residents’ and local governments’ interface on treaty issues is usually with the provincial government or BC Hydro, not any entities south of the border. Residents said there was lots of room for improvement on how this relationship works and, through the CRTLGC, expressed them in seven different points:

— Mitigate and compensate. Basin residents want the provincial government to continue and increase efforts to mitigate for current or future treaty-related impacts.

— The CRTCLG recommends ongoing study, enforcement and compensation on community economic development issues, saying more needs to be done to compensate for economic opportunities lost by the treaty dams.

— The committee recommends engaging residents on issues like reservoir management.

— In two separate recommendations, the committee pushes for a water management process for the Kootenay River and a wildlife restoration program for the Koocanusa Reservoir.

— The committee said the Columbia and Duncan Water Use Plans that were developed in the mid-2000s have not been adequately implemented, and that the provincial government and BC Hydro can “build trust and goodwill with Basin communities” by doing a better job implementing the plans. The committee said difficulty accessing information about implementing the plans and “lack of ongoing involvement” are issues.

— The limited budget budget for the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program was a concern, but  the committee felt it needed more information before making recommendations.

Kozak, who is an elected councillor with the City of Nelson, said the local government committee was determined to get basin residents’ views on the table leading up to potential negotiations.

“Even though we had no voice the first time around in the ‘60s, we decided this time it’s really, really important that we not be left out of these discussions because things could go really sideways if you do not have information directly from the source that is being impacted,” she said.

Kozak said the path forward for treaty negotiations is not clearly defined at this point. The provincial government has issued a draft position on the treaty, but not their final position.

Negotiations could occur within the framework of the existing treaty, or entities could exercise their option to withdraw.

 

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