Community invited to Columbia River conference

One River.Ethics Matter conference in Revelstoke on May 12 looks at past, present and future of Columbia River Treaty

Dams have shaped the Columbia River since the Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1964.

By Kate Borucz, North Columbia Environmental Society

A few years ago, people started talking about the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) and its impending renegotiation deadline of September 2014. The earliest date a participating country (Canada or US) could terminate the CRT was September 2024, but they must give a 10 year notice.

It was clear why the upcoming renegotiation was of importance — if either country was not satisfied, they could decide to give notice to terminate the treaty at this point.

Leading up to September 2014, several groups and organizations began actively discussing what should or might happen to the CRT, and a variety of studies were set in motion to look at different scenarios and options within those scenarios.

September 2014 came and went and… nothing.

Since sometime in 2013, there has largely been a waiting game in place to see how the U.S. will proceed, and as a result, “Treaty Plus” became a favourite on both sides of the border as it outlined a way to continue on with the existing treaty, but with some changes – hopefully improvements.

There has also been support from both Canadian and American stakeholders for improved “ecosystem function,” which would form a third purpose of the treaty beyond just hydro-power production and flood control.

However, ecosystem benefits north of the border don’t necessarily equate to ecosystem benefits south of the border (and vice-versa), particularly as water for irrigation purposes becomes more important for the U.S. agricultural industry as climate change impacts increase.

There is currently a group composed of a variety of stakeholders from all different areas in the Canadian portion of the Columbia Basin to discuss and stay up to date on the status of treaty negotiations and other related topics and issues. This group is called the Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee (“CBRAC”) and it was initiated by the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee and BC Hydro. CBRAC is meant to be a diverse, Basin-wide group representing a broad range of perspectives, interests and geography, which helps inform hydroelectric operations in the Columbia Basin and potential future improvements.

Another exciting development on the topic is that Revelstoke will be the location for the “One River, Ethics Matter” Columbia River Treaty Conference being held at the community centre on Saturday, May 13, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Hosted locally by the North Columbia Environmental Society, Mir Centre for Peace, Selkirk College, and the Okanagan College Faculty Association, the event encourages respectful dialog while exploring options for remedy that are grounded in ethical principles of justice and stewardship.

It boasts an impressive roster of speakers and presenters that will be discussing various aspects of the Columbia River through four main discussions: The River of our Moment – Ethics & Water, The Rivers Through our Memory, The Rivers of our Vision – Climate Change, Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty, Restoring Salmon to the Upper Columbia, and Rivers as our Responsibility – Stewardship & Justice in Action.

Similar conferences have already taken place in the U.S. with impressive turnout. This is the first such conference to take place in Canada and will provide a forum for learning about and discussing the history of the Columbia River and making ethical choices around the treaty by considering the interests of First Nations, the ecosystem and others along the River as we move forward.

This conference will be an excellent opportunity to learn about our history and, hopefully, move our societal consciousness away from being doomed to repeat the mistakes and transgressions made when the Columbia River Treaty was negotiated more than 50 years ago. Click here to see the agenda for the conference.

Finally, in preparation for the conference, the North Columbia Environmental Society and the Columbia Institute of Applied Ecology are hosting Dr. Martin Carver at the community centre on Friday, May 12, at 7 p.m. He will present the Columbia Basin Trust’s Water Monitoring and Climate Change Report. The Report discusses the impacts of dams in the Upper Columbia Basin and also provides a broader background regarding the status of water resources in the same area.

There are many opportunities to get informed about the issues surrounding the Columbia River, the relevance of which is more important now with the impending CRT renegotiations. The Columbia River is a force that runs through Revelstoke — ecology, recreation, tourism, and the local and provincial economy all rely on the health and the providing power of it, and as an individual, you are probably more connected to it then you had thought.