The latest round of negotiations on the modernization of an international water sharing agreement between Canada and the United States is set to get underway in Vancouver this week.
The Columbia River Treaty is a decades old accord that provides flood control management and power generation in the Columbia Basin river network, facilitating the construction of three dams in British Columbia and one in the United States.
Renegotiations have been ongoing for the last four years, with a focus on Indigenous involvement from the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations, which are leading efforts on ecosystem revitalization, given the impacts the dams have had on the river systems, particularly fish species.
“The progress we’ve seen during the past year gives us reason to be optimistic,” said Katrine Conroy, the minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty.
“In the past 12 months, Canada and the U.S. held three rounds of negotiations, as well as technical meetings. Through this work, negotiators found common ground in areas like ecosystem co-operation and increased flexibility for how Canada operates its treaty dams, and further advanced discussions on hydropower co-ordination and flood-risk management.
“There are still challenging conversations to be had, but negotiating teams from both sides of the border are working hard to get closer to a consensus.”
The pending discussions will be the 15th round of talks since both sides agreed to modernize the terms of the agreement.
The treaty has been historically criticized for a lack of engagement with Indigenous communities in the Columbia Basin. The creation of the reservoirs on the Canadian side flooded thousands of hectares of land, displacing communities and impacting Indigenous cultural values, along with having detrimental effects on ecosystems, agriculture and tourism.
In addition to the upcoming negotiations, there are two scheduled public webinar sessions that will feature a presentation using a computerized river-management model assessing how the dams could be operated on the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, along with the corresponding social and economic impacts.
The webinars will also provide an overview of the Columbia River Treat Local Governments Committee, which is leading efforts to identify those social and economic objectives.
Participants can provide feedback through an online survey following the presentations.
Sessions will be held from 6-8 p.m. PT (7-9 p.m. MT) on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2.
Anyone interested in virtually attending the webinars can sign up on the province’s Columbia River Treaty website.