BC seeks comments on draft Columbia River Treaty recommendations

Bill Bennett

This past weekend at the annual symposium of British Columbia’s Columbia Basin Trust, which focused on community change through collaborative action, Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines for the Province, joined a panel to talk about the province’s draft recommendations and guiding principles for the future of the Columbia River Treaty with the United States.

“We feel the treaty has worked extremely well over the past decades for both Canada and the U.S.,” Bennett said. “We think it is worth keeping, but we know it can be improved.” A brief video of his remarks is posted here.

The treaty, which went into effect in 1964, has no ending date but either country can unilaterally terminate the treaty in September 2024 provided at least 10 years’ advance notice is given. In exchange for providing flood control and for an equal share of the incremental U.S. downstream power benefits (the Canadian Entitlement), Canada agreed to build three dams – Duncan, Keenleyside, and Mica – in British Columbia and allowed the U.S. to build a fourth dam, Libby in Montana, that flooded into Canada.

The Canadian facilities vastly reduced flood risk in the province and in the United States but also caused significant damage and forced people and communities to relocate as reservoirs filled behind the dams. The Columbia Basin Trust was created in 1995 to support efforts by the people of the Canadian Columbia River Basin to create social, economic, and environmental well-being in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin -- the region most affected by the Columbia River Treaty.

The treaty is implemented by BC Hydro, the provincial electricity utility, on behalf of Canada (the Canadian Entity) and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration (the U.S. Entity) on behalf of the United States. The Province of British Columbia is the entity responsible for the disposal of the Canadian Entitlement.

The Province and U.S. Entity have developed draft recommendations on the future of the treaty. When finalized later this year, these will serve as recommendations to the provincial government in British Columbia and the federal government in the U.S. The U.S. Entity posted its recommendation here for public review and comment though October 25.

The draft recommendation of the Province of B.C. was developed by Bennett’s ministry through extensive consultations with citizens, First Nations, and stakeholders, and informed by economic, environmental, social, hydrological, and legal analyses. It includes principles to guide the province in any discussions on the future of the treaty with Canada and the United States. These include consideration of flood control, hydropower generation, ecosystems, climate change, and benefits to British Columbia.

The ministry is inviting comments on its draft recommendation, posted here, through November 20, after which the province’s Columbia River Treaty Review Team will prepare its final recommendation to Premier Christy Clark and her Cabinet.