Columbia River Treaty public engagement report addresses Golden’s issues

A summary report detailing all of the Columbia River Treaty community meetings is now available, and outlines priorities set by Golden’s residents.

The report is intended to capture all of the points that were discussed at the meeting in June. Another round of public meetings is expected to take place in Columbia Basin communities again in 2019. The meetings relaunch the province’s engagement with the public on the Columbia River Treaty, which was signed in 1961, ratified in 1964. The evergreen treaty would only terminate if either Canada or the U.S. issues a 10-year notice. Indigenous Nations and Basin communities were not consulted when the treaty was first formed, and the province has made it a top priority to ensure they are engaged throughout the new negotiation process.

The treaty controls the hydro electric operations of the 14 dams along the river, and the storage reservoir levels, like at Kinbasket Lake, that control power flow through turbines downstream.

During drought years, Canada releases water to keep the U.S. turbines turning. In return for increasing downstream power generation, B.C. received a Canadian Entitlement, where the U.S. sends the province about $250 million worth of electricity every year.

Priorities affecting Golden in the Columbia River Treaty public engagement report include equitable benefit sharing and fair compensation between Canada and B.C., and the U.S., and between B.C. and Basin communities, providing social and economic benefits; First Nations involvement, questioning the credibility of the process without First Nations at the table; Stabilized reservoir water levels, and controlling fluctuations at Kinbasket Lake; Enhanced recreation on Kinbasket Lake, particularly through improved road access; and attendees at the meeting said that water supply management going forward was critical, especially considering climate change.

Although the public engagement report has been drafted and released, some feel that Golden’s voice might not be heard over other Basin communities.

“The public engagement report speaks to some of the local issues, but my fear is that we are being forgotten about. That there won’t be a full understanding of the impacts on our area, that others will speak up about their situation, and the Province and the Americans will attend to their needs,” said Mayor Ron Oszust. “Locally, we need the province and the Americans to understand that the Kinbasket Reservoir is the largest and most impacted reservoir in the Columbia system. With a 155 vertical feet of water fluctuation, it goes from a decimated moonscape to an amazing lake.”

The Kinbasket reservoir was created in 1973 with the completion of the Mica Dam, which was built for flood control and power generation. The reservoir covers 529 square kilometres in the Rocky Mountain Trench, and Oszust says studies have identified ongoing impact the reservoir has had on economic losses in the Golden and Area A region.

“Historically, it has been a loss to the community, a loss of harvestable forest land, a loss of pristine valley bottom, a loss of recreational values, the loss of a provincially managed roadway, and as a result of all of this… a loss of economic values to our community,” Oszust said.

Participants expressed that they would like to see increased access to Kinbasket Reservoir and expanded recreational property ownership around the lake, which is currently limited due to lack of access and fluctuating water levels.

Several interests related to benefit sharing included considering economic losses, and other losses, locally through full cost accounting. Residents also called for support of new economic drivers, such as fish guiding, to offset social and economic impacts.

“The parties negotiating the treaty have, and are, visiting portions of the Canadian Columbia, but at this time they have no plans to come to the Kinbasket. They will not have an understanding of our issues and visual awareness of the impacts,” Oszust said.

Other communities, like Nakusp and Invermere, among others, also stressed the importance of equitable benefits, First Nations involvement, reducing fluctuating reservoir levels, protected water supply, and more. The voices of other communities echoed Golden’s concerns at meetings held in June of last year, and meetings held in 2012 and 2013.

The treaty team gathered a summary of interests from community members in Golden during meetings in 2012 and 2013, which also included poor road access to the reservoir, no camping and recreational sites, widely fluctuating water levels, large amounts of debris on Kinbasket, no low-water access at the boat ramp at Bush Harbour, erosion of archaeological sites due to fluctuating water levels, and inadequate compensation to Golden for treaty impacts.

The meetings in all of the Canadian Columbia Basin communities showed that issues captured in the 2012 and 2013 meetings are still relevant and important even five years later. The meetings also shed light on new issues, and provided suggestions for how to reduce impacts and increase benefits for the Canadian Columbia Basin. The Province will use the recommendations from the public engagement report, and explore new ways to address them, and report back to Basin communities.

“As people of the north end of the Columbia system, we need to have our voices heard. Please engage in the Treaty renegotiation process and speak up for our area, for today, but also for generations to come,” Oszust said.

More meetings are set to gather public comments again this year.

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