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MLA Minute: Why You Should Care about the Columbia River Treaty - A Watershed Moment

Doug Clovechok MLA

Doug Clovechok MLA

If you are concerned about the fish that are washing up onshore, the low reservoir levels, and B.C.’s current drought conditions, you are not alone.

I often receive questions and concerns about these and other water-related issues. Residents in our region know the importance of our water. Over the years as your MLA, I have worked with various constituents and regional organizations such as Living lakes on grassroots efforts to protect our most precious resource. All life depends on healthy water sources, and there is no cause more worthy of stewardship for our future.

It is an honour to be the Shadow Minister for the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), as we move to modernize the treaty which Canada and the U.S. signed in 1961 and ratified in 1964. A lot has changed since then, and so should our approach to transboundary water management.

Although the CRT has no specified end date, either Canada or the U.S. can unilaterally terminate most of the agreement’s provisions after 2024, with at least 10 years notice. No such notice has been given, but today’s work is preparing us for future changes when the time comes.

The principles of the CRT are straight forward- Both the U.S. and Canada can benefit by working together to coordinate the water flow for flood control and power generation, by capturing spring run-off and releasing water at other times of the year when it is more valuable.

Canada agreed to build three dams in British Columbia - the Duncan near Kaslo, Hugh L. Keenleyside at Castlegar and the Mica dams. The U.S. built a fourth dam, the Libby Dam, that was allowed to flood into Canada. The Libby Dam, in 1972, turned the Kootenay River into Lake Koocanusa – a combination of the words “Kootenay”, “Canada” and “USA”. Canada benefits from flood control from the U.S. and receives an equal share of the incremental U.S. downstream power benefits.

Over the past 10 years, the Treaty has returned an average of $140 million per year to B.C. through the sale of Canada’s share of the downstream power benefits (referred to as the Canadian Entitlement). The Entitlement is in the form of power delivered to the Canada-U.S. border, which is marketed on B.C.’s behalf by BC Hydro’s marketing subsidiary Powerex. The value of the Canadian Entitlement in fiscal 2021/22 was $231 million. In 2022/23, those revenues were $437 million.

You may be aware that international treaties are within the jurisdiction of the federal government. If you’ve ever wondered why the CRT negotiations are so deeply rooted in B.C. and the Columbia Basin, it’s due to the foresight of B.C. During the 60’s when the treaty was created. B.C advocated for a key leadership role and for the lion’s share of the Canadian benefits of the CRT. Most CRT rights and obligations were transferred to the Province via the Canada-British Columbia Agreement (1963). This agreement also states that termination or amending the treaty requires the agreement of the Province of B.C. What this means is that B.C. is at the table alongside Canadian and American federal counterparts as well as First Nations.

We must ensure that the B.C. Basin’s interests are met. A modernized treaty must include fair compensation for the benefits that the Canadian flow provides, as well as increased flexibility for Canadian Treaty dam operations. Issues like the restoration of the salmon to the B.C. portion of the Basin are being investigated in collaboration with the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations.

The 18th round of Columbia River Treaty negotiations were conducted in August of 2023. I am looking forward to providing more updates as they unfold, and discussing how the treaty affects and benefits life in Columbia River-Revelstoke.

I want to hear from you about any concerns you have about this or any other issue. I read every email I receive. Please reach out to me at or call my office in Kimberley at (250) 432-2300 or Revelstoke at (250) 805-0323.

Carolyn Grant

About the Author: Carolyn Grant

I have been with the Kimberley Bulletin since 2001 and have enjoyed every moment of it.
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