Letter: Cabinet minister clarifies complex treaty talks

Katrine Conroy outlines B.C. perspectives on Columbia River Treaty

To the editor:

As Canada and B.C. start to engage with the United States about the future of the Columbia River Treaty, I’m pleased by the amount of interest and engagement this subject is getting, both from the public and media.

The issues surrounding the treaty are complex, so I would like to take the opportunity to clarify a few things in your June 29 article, “Columbia River Treaty renegotiation will impact Okanagan.”

Related: Potential treaty renegotiation impact on the Okanagan

The article states that “one-third of the Columbia River basin resides in B.C.” and that B.C. “is the source for 60% of the water flows.” In fact, just 15 per cent of the basin is in B.C., producing between 30-45 per cent of the river flow, depending on annual snowpack conditions.

It should also be noted that the treaty was not the reason for the decimation of the Columbia River salmon run. The salmon run into Canada was blocked by construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, several decades before the treaty.

Also, while it’s true that “no financial benefits for wildlife or environment mitigation initiatives are directed to the Okanagan,” there is a good reason for this: projects funded by the Columbia Basin Trust are targeted to the Columbia Basin region impacted by the treaty; to expand this work into other unaffected areas would not be consistent with CBT’s mandate.

I should also note that Washington does not purchase B.C. storage water to irrigate crops that compete with B.C.: Washington’s agricultural industry uses water from aquifers, Lake Roosevelt reservoir and the U.S. portion of the Columbia River.

The author characterizes the water of the Columbia River as “our water.” That’s true on this side of the border; however, after the river crosses into the U.S., it is no longer our water.

Related: First Nations excluded from treaty talks

On the question of scientific research on this side of the border, federal, provincial and First Nations government scientists and technical specialists have collaborated on studies, research and modelling to develop data, information and scenarios to mitigate treaty impacts and improve environmental conditions. The Province’s Columbia River Treaty website (http://engage.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/columbia-river-treaty-101/) provides information on the previous and ongoing technical work.

It’s also important to note that the treaty does not expire in 2024: the treaty does not expire unless either country issues a 10-year termination notice, which could be given at any time after 2014.

Again, I appreciate all the great coverage, in your publication and others, regarding the treaty. The more we can engage on this subject, the better-informed we will all be as negotiations proceed.

Katrine Conroy

Minister of Children and Family Development and Minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Power Corporation

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