Our Precious Water: Columbia Basin Trust

This is part of Our Precious Water, a series of submitted articles on watershed monitoring and stewardship in the region

For over 25 years, Columbia Basin Trust has been working together with people and communities to strengthen the Columbia Basin, the region consisting of all the watersheds that flow into the Columbia River in Canada. The Trust exists to support the efforts of the people of the Basin to create a legacy of social, economic and environmental well-being for present and future generations.

The Trust takes its lead from residents and communities. Whatever the situation calls for, the Trust adapts its role: from providing resources, to bringing people together, to leading an entire initiative.

The Trust accomplishes this work through 70 active programs and initiatives. Its financial support comes from its investments—primarily in hydropower generation. The Trust also invests in Basin-based businesses and real estate.

Columbia Basin Trust Formation

In the early 1990s, residents, local officials and representatives from regional districts and tribal councils joined together to successfully negotiate with the Province for a share of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) revenues and to secure benefits for the people of the Basin. In July 1995, the Columbia Basin Trust Act was passed into BC Government legislation. Its work is guided by the Columbia Basin Management Plan, which was developed in consultation with Columbia Basin residents in 1997.

The Columbia Basin Management Plan states that:

• funds be allocated to the region, representing a fair share of the ongoing benefits being realized outside of the Basin as a result of the CRT

• a regional organization, governed by a board of Basin residents, be created to manage those funds.

A binding agreement was established resulting in the Province providing:

• $276 million to finance power project construction

• $45 million, which the Trust used as an endowment

• $2 million per year from 1995 to 2010 for operations.

Columbia Basin Trust Investments

The Trust’s investments generate a predictable, sustainable and appreciating income stream. It uses the money it earns to deliver programs and initiatives in the Basin, invest in businesses and real estate, and to fund its corporate operating expenses. The Trust’s investments include:

• Hydropower Facilities

• Private Placements, such as businesses and real estate

• Market Securities

By carefully investing its money, the Trust has increased the book value of its assets over the past 25 years to $2.1 billion, generating an annual return of $88 million in 2020/21. The Trust then re-invests these dollars in the region.

This past year, the Trust delivered $71.2 million in total benefits and supported over 2,400 projects throughout the Columbia Basin region.

Focusing On People In The Basin For Over 25 years

The Trust supports what the people of the Basin want to achieve. Community engagement and feedback is at the core of the Trust’s existence, including establishing its priorities. It’s most recent strategic priorities were published in November 2020 and include: community well-being, ecosystem enhancement, high-speed connectivity, housing, local food production and access, and support for business renewal. In addition, the integrated priorities of climate resilience and working with Indigenous Peoples will be incorporated throughout the Trust’s work in the Basin.

To honour its 25th anniversary, the Trust published a book titled, “Columbia Basin Trust: A Story of People, Power and A Region United”. It tells the story of how the people of the Basin created and participated in an unprecedented community-led process to establish a living legacy for present and future generations of the region.

Learn more about the Trust at ourtrust.org or get the book at 25years.ourtrust.org.

Creston Valley