River treaty meeting discusses ecological concerns

Members of the community gathered on June 20 to discuss the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) negotiations, learn about how the negotiations affect the Golden area, and have their questions answered.

The purpose of the meeting was for the provincial government to return to communities to review interests that were gathered in 2012 and 2013 during the BC Columbia River Treaty Review Public Consultation, update the public about the status of negotiations with the U.S., share the work that gets done to prepare for negotiations, discuss how to stay connected and updated about the goings on, and answer questions that the public has in Golden and Area A.

“These negotiations are critically important for our community because it could very well impact the way the Kinbasket Reservoir is operated,” explained Mayor Ron Oszust, who has been involved with the CRT Local Government Committee since its inception. “Albeit many call it a lake, it is truly an industrial reservoir.”

The main points at the meeting, presented to the provincial and federal representatives, was that First Nations should be at the negotiating table, ecosystems need to be included as a priority, there should be less fluctuation levels in the Kinbasket Reservoir, and there should be equitable distribution of benefits to affected areas, including Golden and Area A.

“Priorities change. We found that certain things have risen in importance in communities that we’ve seen so far, and certainly feel that they are being addressed” said Kathy Eichenberger, Columbia River Treaty executive director. “The biggest was around including ecosystems as part of the treaty negotiations. Everyone was really concerned and advocating so strongly for that.”

Now, there is a new group working closely on the environmental impacts side of the treaty, the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative, which has come together in the last nine months.

“They’re working closely, and they’re bringing all their expertise and their science and making recommendations to the province,” Eichenberger said. “We even had for a time a collaborative work group. We had scientists, First Nations, and agents from our side, and they were going down to the United States, and they had the same on their side, and then we were trying to compare what we were trying to achieve.”

The Columbia River Treaty negotiations have been an ongoing issue for a long time. The Local Government Committee joined the province in a series of meetings in 2012 and 2013 to find out what Basin residents concerns were, and received input from advisors to prepare recommendations in 2013.

Since 2014, the Local Government Committee has worked with the provincial government and BC Hydro to work on and guide the Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee (CBRAC), and continues to bring pictures of the impacts of B.C. dam operations to meetings and events in the U.S. to show the effects on local areas.

Two years later, the Local Government Committee began to familiarize and educate federal global affairs staff and the parliamentary secretary, who are responsible for treaty negotiations. The local government committee also provided their recommendations that were gathered in 2013 to the federal government in 2016.

The committee will continue to update the recommendations over the next few months, and invites everyone to share their views on any changes that may be needed.

A copy of the recommendations can be found on the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments website at www.akblg.ca/columbia_river_treaty. Comments can be sent to the executive director, Cindy Pearce, by the end of July via e-mail at cindypearce@telus.net.

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