Arrowhead circa 1910. The town vanished beneath the waters of Upper Arrow Lake Reservoir by 1968 after the Hugh Keenlyside Dam was built.

U.S. is ripping us off on water

Columbia River Treaty's token payments for hydro power don't recognize value of flooded farmland, irrigation or salmon recovery

VICTORIA – The U.S. has Canada over a barrel on water as well as oil these days, but the tide is turning.

Last week I mentioned a new book called The Columbia River Treaty – A Primer by members of Simon Fraser University’s climate adaptation team. This slim volume makes the case that B.C. has ended up with a shockingly bad deal from this 1964 treaty, which concerned itself entirely with flood control and hydroelectric power.

In those days there was little or no environmental assessment. Agriculture, fish habitat and aboriginal impacts were ignored. More than a decade after the disastrous flood year of 1948, once Ottawa stopped its bureaucratic delays, U.S. public and private power utilities paid B.C. $254 million to build three dams on the Columbia system.

Those dams (and one at Libby, Montana that mostly floods B.C. land) hold back the huge spring runoff from the Rockies and then dole out water for power production in B.C. and for the 15 hydro dams previously built downstream in the U.S.

The U.S. payment was for half the power over 30 years, which B.C. didn’t need at the time. Then our American cousins cut us another cheque for $64 million, an estimate of the value of flood protection from 1968 all the way to 2024.

Boy, did we get taken. The SFU team calculates the value of that flood control to the U.S. at more like $32 billion.

That’s not even the worst of it. The Kootenays were once the leading fruit and vegetable growing area in B.C., bigger than the Okanagan. Now in the Arrow Lakes and other reservoirs, levels rise and fall dramatically to steady the flow south. In addition to the large areas permanently flooded by the Mica, Duncan and Hugh Keenleyside dams, this renders more of B.C.’s prime bottom land impassable.

B.C. is paid precisely zero for this sacrifice, while Washington state has developed a $5 billion-a-year farm economy using our stable irrigation source. That has helped their tree fruit growers push some Okanagan orchardists out of business.

As U.S. billionaires continue to bankroll environmental attacks on B.C. and Alberta energy projects, it’s worth noting that long before the treaty, the U.S. military-industrial complex had wiped out the Columbia River salmon runs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its private power partners dammed everything they could find, exterminating a fishery bigger than the Fraser that had sustained aboriginal people on both sides of today’s border for thousands of years.

B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett and SFU’s Jon O’Riordan both described to me their experience at the Columbia River Basin conference, held last October in Spokane.

Their main impression was that Americans, including traditional tribes, want those salmon runs restored. Vast amounts have been spent on hatcheries and habitat to speed recovery below the Grand Coulee dam, which stands like a giant tombstone for migratory fisheries above it.

Should the Americans ever manage to get salmon above their biggest dam, it will largely be up to B.C. to provide sufficient cool water to keep them alive. That service has an increasing value to the U.S. as well as an ongoing cost to B.C.

Bennett surprised some in Spokane when he said the U.S. needs to pay more for the benefits from the Columbia River Treaty.

The flood control agreement expires in 2024. The treaty requires 10 years’ notice for either country to exit. Climate shifts are expected to make B.C. water more important than ever.

Your move, Uncle Sam.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Just Posted

7 Mile Landfill operations tender closes October

Taxes covering the landfill have not increased over the past 15 years and are not expected to soon.

NorthIsle starts drilling in Pemberton Hills area after negotiating deal with Freeport

Mining industry one step closer to a revitalization after farm-out agreement

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

Port Hardy Fire Rescue’s open house a blazing hit

PHFR Lt. Harding explained that the organization is always looking for more recruits.

Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation drafts first phase of passive housing project

The housing project will have 96 residential units for low-income families.

Rick Mercer says pot is ‘excruciatingly boring’

Comedian hopes Canadians will move onto something else once marijuana is legalized

2 charged for feeding B.C. bear Tim Horton’s timbits

Court documents show that Randy Scott and Megan Hiltz have both been charged with feeding or attempting to feed dangerous wildlife.

Killer-rapist Paul Bernardo set for parole bid after 25 years in prison

Bernardo’s parole hearing at the Bath Institution is expected to attract numerous observers

Feds aiming to select preferred design for $60B warships by end of month

Defence insiders say the government wants to select a design by the end of the month from among three options submitted by several of the largest defence and shipbuilding companies in the world.

A B.C. campaign to give municipalities input into marijuana advertising

Without a say, towns and cities risk Washington-State-style flood of advertising, proponent says

Defence cautions against mob justice in Calgary child neglect trial

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark of Calgary have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death

Feds eyeing options to expedite pardons for minor pot convictions

Internal discussions have focused on an application-based process for speeding up pot pardons

Port Hardy municipal election candidate Janet Dorward’s profile

“My passion for Port Hardy is about ensuring the best standards of living,” Dorward said.

Port McNeill municipal election candidate Matt Martin’s profile

“I believe Port McNeill can become an even more vibrant and successful community,” said Martin.

Most Read