Fifteenth  round of negotiations held in Vancouver

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 15th round of negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty was held in Vancouver on January 25 and 26. The Columbia River Treaty is a water management agreement that was implemented in 1964 between the United States and Canada. The U.S. prepaid Canada $64 million for a 60-year agreement to ensure flood control operations would be provided.

The Columbia Treaty doesn’t have an end date but can be terminated by either country as of September 2024 or onward, if 10 years’ notice is given.

“The progress we’ve seen during the past year gives us reason to be optimistic. In the past 12 months, Canada and the U.S. held three rounds of negotiations, as well as technical meetings,” said Katrine Conroy, ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, in a press release. 

The treaty stemmed from a flood in 1948 that cost many lives and caused devastation to Oregon’s city of Vanport. Four dams were built as a part of this treaty with many more to follow throughout the Columbia’s watershed. The first three dams in British Columbia (B.C.) were the Duncan, Hugh L. Keenleyside, and the Mica. The fourth dam, the Libby, was built by the U.S. and  floods into Canada. This treaty displaced thousands of residents, and First Nations (Peoples) of the areas. The treaty dams and reservoirs inundated more than 110,000 hectares of Canadian ecosystems. There was no consultation with First Nations Peoples of the land, or the public when the treaty first came into play.

“Canada and the U.S. have exchanged several proposals that make clear their respective priorities for a modernized treaty,” said Conroy. “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.”

All the dams and culverts built under this treaty severely impacted (the ability of) salmon to swim up to the upper Columbia River, which had not seen salmon for over eight decades until the Shuswap Band released 1500 kokanee salmon this past August. At the ceremony for this release, Shuswap Band councillor, Mark Thomas, was named the Band’s Salmon Chief. Thomas oversees all cultural, spiritual, ecological, and diplomatic stewardship initiatives while leading the path to ensure salmon return to the Columbia River. Thomas is a strong advocate for sustainable and respectful use of all water-related resources in the Shuswap Caretaker Area.

“Columbia River Treaty modernization should include commitments to understand efforts required to restore anadromous stocks to the headwaters,” said Thomas. “The goal of salmon restoration is a ‘One River, One Voice’ approach with the three Nations along with B.C. and Canada, and is the foundation for Columbia River Salmon Recovery Initiative (CRSRI). The intent of CRSRI is for an Indigenous lead process to salmon recovery.”

The three Nations that make up CRSRI are Shuswap Band (Secwépemc), Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk), and Syiilx Okagnagan. Together with the B.C. and Canadian governments they have been working on what improvements can be made to the treaty. 

“This is a pivotal time for governments to demonstrate their commitments to United Nations on the Declaration Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” Thomas said.

“The Canadian negotiating team continues to work constructively with the U.S. to find agreement on a modernized Columbia River Treaty that addresses the interests of Indigenous Nations and communities in B.C.’s Columbia Basin,” said Conroy. “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 progress that has been made, as well as the recent comments by the U.S. State Department, suggest that together we can design a treaty that reflects the needs of the Columbia Basin, today and in the future.”