WASHINGTON — A British Columbia cabinet minister monitoring negotiations with the United States over the future of the expiring Columbia River Treaty says talks have been “frank” around operations and benefits.
The treaty covers the three dams that were placed on the Columbia River in B.C. for flood control down river in Washington and Oregon. In return for the dams, Canada received half of the electricity generated from the project.
When treaty negotiations began last year, the Americans said the electricity entitlement for Canada is too large and they want to add environmental measures to the agreement, allowing them to increase water flow to protect salmon habitat.
Katrine Conroy, the B.C. cabinet minister responsible for the treaty, says everything is on the table, including reducing Canada’s electricity entitlement and cutting downstream benefits to the United States.
She says the talks have now advanced on the topics of flood-risk management and hydropower co-ordination.
Conroy says there has been some frank conversations about operations and benefits that are on both sides of the border.
“I know from our perspective, the operations on this side are incredibly important, especially the lake levels in both east and west Kootenay. It’s always an issue for people on this side of the basin,” she says.
The fifth round of negotiations took place in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday, for the treaty that was ratified in 1964.
Conroy says the current requests from the United States for increased water flow means fluctuating lake levels in British Columbia and has also prompted complaints from Okanagan apple growers that their American counterparts are being favoured.
Extreme weather in recent years has also made flood-risk mitigation top of mind, she says.
“Because of climate change and the fluctuating levels of our rivers in the last few years and some of the floods that have come about, we do need the flood control and we do need that flood control downstream.”
The earliest the treaty can be concluded is 2024, however termination requires notice of ten years.
The next round of negotiations will take place in Victoria on April 10 and 11.
No one from the U.S. State Department was available for comment but it says in a statement that American negotiators continue to take into account the views of people who live and work in the Columbia River basin.
“Building on information shared during previous rounds, the U.S. and Canadian negotiators discussed U.S. priorities, including continued careful flood risk management, maintaining a reliable and economical power supply, and ecosystem benefit improvement,” the statement says.
The Canadian Press