The lengthy process to determine the future of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) continued in Creston on Nov. 15, with about 80 people in attendance.
Coun. Joanna Wilson, who represented Creston as acting mayor, said on Monday she was impressed with the knowledge and impartiality of the panel.
“They were very good at bringing out the issues and giving local residents a voice in the process,” she said.
The Columbia River Treaty review is designed to help inform the future of the CRT.
Signed in 1961 and ratified in 1964, the CRT was designed to optimize flood management and power generation with a coordinated effort to operate reservoirs and water flows of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in Canada and the U.S. While there is no specific end date to the treaty, either country can terminate it in or after September 2024 with at least 10 years notice.
Canadian activity in the CRT is managed by BC Hydro, which works with the Bonneville Power Administration and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to implement the terms of the treaty, which gives each country a half share in the downstream power benefits.
Wilson said the major concerns expressed on Thursday focused on the management of Kootenay River levels, which local farmers claim is leading to erosion of the dykes that allowed the Creston flats to be reclaimed for agriculture in the 1930s.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the impact the damming of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers for power generation had on residents,” Wilson said. “When my family came to Canada from England we first lived near Robson. Years later, I made a pilgrimage back there and the whole area was under water — it was astonishing to see how much farmland disappeared and how many families were displaced without even being consulted.”
The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) was born out of a demand that residents of the Columbia Basin receive compensation for the impact of the power dams. It was created in 1995 to support social, economic and environmental well-being for the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin. It was provided with an endowment of $321 million, which included $276 million to invest in hydroelectric projects, $45 million to invest in other projects and $2 million a year through 2010 for operations.
Currently, the CBT provides $20 million annually in support of the efforts of Columbia Basin residents to create a legacy from the power benefits.
CBT partnered with the province of B.C. to develop three power projects at Hugh Keenleyside Dam, Brilliant Dam and Waneta Dam.
The Columbia River Treaty made the news earlier in 2012 when unprecedented water levels forced Canadian and American operators to manage dams and reservoirs to limit flooding in communities on both sides of the border.
As part of the BC Hydro system, power generation at Columbia Basin facilities helps to provide approximately 44 per cent of low-cost electricity to B.C. residents and businesses. Residents also benefit from water rentals, fees paid to the province for the use of publicly owned water to produce power. Over the last 10 years those fees have been about $120 million annually.
For more information and to provide input into the CRT review, visit gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty.