Advocating for a better deal

Feedback locally on the Columbia River treaty negotiations

Those who felt that residents got a poor deal last time around and those looking for improvements shared their concerns about the Columbia River Treaty with the B.C. team that is in negotiations with the federal governments of both Canada and the United States to update the waterway deal.

At a public consultation on Wednesday, December 5th, more than 50 people packed into the Lions Hall at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce to share their thoughts with the team from the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources led by Kathy Eichenberger.

“People are giving us some good advice, some good suggestions,” Ms. Eichenberger said about the consultation process with B.C. residents, adding that “you will see everything you’ve said” addressed in a document about the consultations that she expects will be released later this month or early into the new year.

Ms. Eichenberger said before the treaty team arrived in Invermere, the feedback they had received was primarily related to the following issues: ecosystems, salmon restoration, flooding, Libby Dam concerns, power generation and compensation for Canada, socio-economic impacts and responsive governance.

The feedback in Invermere generally fit within those broad categories with one participant saying: “I’m afraid we haven’t been getting our share.”

Barb Cote, chief of the Shuswap Indian Band said: “so many of us are here tonight to talk about the Columbia River and reintroduction of salmon.”

Speaking as president of the Kootenay Livestock Association and for those who live along Lake Koocanusa, Morgan Dilts said: “I would ask, on behalf of us all, that this time the treaty process actually live up to the promises made and not simply take from Canadian citizens.”

He also spoke for his father Dennis Dilts who “was removed from the river bottom” and had his home and land expropriated in the 1960s to give way to the river.

The younger Mr. Dilts read a note from his father that said: “I have spent my whole life trying to replace what was taken, and in my old age am very frustrated with the knowledge that this will never happen. It sickens me the way that the monies obtained through the (Columbia River Treaty) have never come back to those people and places most impacted.”

Other feedback shared during small group discussions and with the full audience included environmental concerns, requests for increased compensation for locals and B.C. residents, the need to prevent overdevelopment and more.

“What is the carrying capacity and how is that going to be monitored?” one person asked.

Another advocated for responsible irrigation, asking: “How much can you take out of the river before it gets damaging?”

The Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1961 (ratified in 1964), with two main purposes in mind: flood mitigation and power generation.

The current deal expires in 2024, but will continue indefinitely or until a new agreement is signed or one party gives 10-years of notice to opt out.

Negotiators representing the governments of Canada (including British Columbia) and the United States met in Washington, D.C. in May 2018 to formally launch discussions about the future of the Columbia River Treaty. A series of meetings followed, including one taking place in Vancouver this week on December 12th and 13th.

“Obviously I can’t reveal everything that’s being discussed at the negotiating table,” Ms. Eichenberger said, but she is looking to “maximize the benefits for the province” and intends to return to the Valley to share the results with residents.

With files from Lorene Keitch

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