The Columbia River is undeniable. How vast, how beautiful. How important and powerful. How influential. The river will continue to have an undeniable impact on our economy, environment, society and our history. And by ‘our’ I am, of course, referring to not just those of us in the Columbia Valley but also British Columbia, Canada and the United States.
Millions of people place an enormous amount of good faith and trust in the Columbia. First Nations and immigrants alike. For power, irrigation, spirituality, recreation. Have been for a long, long time. As we all know, it begins right here in our backyard and then twists and turns its way through a diverse variety of ecosystems. Eventually, it empties into the Pacific. Astoria, Oregon is the nearest community to the river’s mouth. Astoria was the first American settlement west of the Rockies. Coincidence?
The Columbia is the River of the West. It’s in the same petridish as the Colorado, Mississippi, Rio Grande. A phenomenal river with phenomenal history. Since 1964, the Columbia River Treaty has tightly governed the management of the river’s watershed. The treaty provided the legal framework necessary for Canada and the United States to try and optimize the river’s power to our mutual benefit. Without a treaty, there is no cooperation, coordination on large scale dam construction for flood control, agriculture, electricity.
The treaty is famous for being a model example of international cooperation. Infamous for its incredible insensitivity toward the environment. To think, there was a (recent) time when anadromous salmon swam as far upstream from the Pacific to our very own Columbia Valley a two-thousand kilometre effort. The abundance of salmon in our waters back then, unfathomable.
The treaty is soon expiring. 2024 is the year, approaching fast. Renegotiations between Canada and the United States are underway. There are sticking points. Nine years ago, B.C. initiated a review process to evaluate whether the agreement deserved continuation, amendment or termination. It took two years of consultation with the public, local governments, First Nations, and hydro operators before B.C. decided to continue the treaty but seek improvements through renegotiation. Colossal are the stakes.
Over the next two months, I will be exploring through a series of articles the impact the treaty has had on the Columbia Valley through an economic, social, environmental, and historical lens. An awareness of what’s at stake in the Columbia Valley is critical. And for the millions of lives touched by the river. And for the well-being of the river itself. My aim is to raise aware-ness. The Columbia deserves it.