A judges gavel and justice scale, two men talking in the background

The Columbia River Treaty today

By Chadd Cawson, The Columbia Valley Pioneer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In a recent article by the Pioneer, one looked at the history of the Columbia River Treaty and its implications. 2024 will mark the 60-year point since the U.S. prepaid Canada $64 million to ensure flood control operations would be provided. This Treaty remains in place until one party gives a 10-year termination notice, however, its guidelines have been evolving more recently.

Between 2012 and 2014, discussions were had on whether to terminate, amend, or continue the Treaty and a big public engagement process was held during that time. In 2014, the B.C. government made the decision to continue the treaty while seeking improvements within its existing framework and with this decision further studies and assessments began. 

“It took the U.S side little time to get ready for negotiations, but it came together, and we began modernizing the Treaty in May of 2018,” says Kathy Eichenberger Executive Director of the Columbia River Treaty Branch and Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. It is this ministry that governs BC Hydro which operates the dams that are a part of the Columbia River Treaty. “We’ve had 12 negotiating sessions so far, and in the Spring of 2019, we had the first ever First Nation representatives as part of the negotiation allegations and it was very successful,” says Eichenberger.

During that session, B.C. Hydro, along with both the B.C. and Canadian government sat down with the Secwépemc (Shuswap), Syiilx Okagnagan and the Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) First Nations to discuss what improvements could be made to the Treaty, while keeping along with the negations made with the United States. It is these First Nations that also make up the Indigenous-led Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction Initiative. 

“Together negotiations were made to modernize it while improving and protecting the environment in British Columbia,” says Eichenberger. “The negotiations are ongoing with no timeline set to end them, but what will change in 2024 is how we manage our Canadian reservoirs to prevent serious flooding in the U.S. which means they will have to use their reservoirs more without relying on Canada, there are big changes still to come. It’s a slow process, and we are not there yet but we continue to move it forward.”

While curious minds would like to know more of what is yet to come during this process, not all the details of negotiations can be shared until they are final. The public can stay informed through a quarterly newsletter and any updates on negotiations that are announced at town hall where the public can attend virtually. 

“Currently the five governments Canada, BC, and those of the Secwépemc (Shuswap), Syiilx Okagnagan and the Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) First Nations are working close to improve the Treaty in order to improve conditions in the Columbia River Basin,” says Eichenberger. “Over the next year we will have a better understanding as to how the negotiations will continue to unfold but it is going to be a critical year.”

Top image credit: Negotiations with the Columbia River Treaty has been underway since 2018 with attempts to improve and modernize it within its existing framework. BC Hydro along with the B.C. and Canadian government and the Secwépemc (Shuswap), Syiilx Okagnagan and the Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) First Nations have all been a part of this process. Adobe Stock Photo

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