The Columbia River Treaty
In 1964, Canada and the United States (U.S.) ratified the Columbia River Treaty (Treaty), a transboundary water management agreement.
In exchange for providing flood control and for an equal share of the incremental U.S. downstream power benefits, Canada agreed to build three dams – Duncan, Hugh L. Keenleyside and Mica - in British Columbia and allowed the U.S. to build a fourth dam, the Libby Dam, that flooded into Canada.
The Canadian facilities vastly reduced flood risk in B.C. and the U.S. The Treaty also enabled the construction of hydroelectric projects in B.C. that provide approximately half of the potential generation in the Province, as well as providing for the production of significantly more electricity at U.S. hydropower facilities.
The Treaty dams and reservoirs inundated 110,000 hectares (270,000 acres) of Canadian ecosystems, displaced more than two thousand residents as well as First Nations, communities and infrastructure, and impacted farms, tourism and forestry activities. First Nations and public consultation and mitigation at the time could be considered inadequate to non-existent by today’s standards, and feelings of hurt remain to this day.
Spring drawdown in Arrow reservoir at Nakusp
The Canada-British Columbia Agreement (1963) allocated most Treaty rights, benefits and obligations to the Province. Although this agreement retains Canada’s constitutional jurisdiction for international treaties, it requires Canada to obtain the concurrence of the Province before terminating or amending the Treaty.
The U.S. prepaid Canada $64 million for 60 years to provide assured flood control operations which resulted in reduced flood damage and increased safety for U.S. citizens. The U.S. also committed in the Treaty to paying Canada half of the incremental power potential that could be produced because of the new flow regimes made possible by the Treaty coordination.
You can learn more about the Treaty at the BC Treaty Engage website and Columbia Basin Trust’s CRT website.
The Treaty has no end date but either country can unilaterally terminate the Treaty from September 2024 onwards provided that at least 10 years notice is given.
This ability to terminate the Treaty, and the changing flood control provisions that will occur post-2024 whether the Treaty is terminated or not, prompted B.C. and the U.S.to undertake independent reviews of the Treaty to determine its future.
On December 13, 2013, the U.S. Entity made its final recommendations to the U.S. federal government. It recommended a modern treaty framework that balances power production, flood control and ecosystem functions.
On March 14, 2014, the Province of BC announced its decision to continue the Columbia River Treaty and seek improvements within its existing framework. Fourteen principles will guide future discussion and, among others, include equitable sharing of benefits from transboundary coordination and recognizing that BC is impacted by CRT operations.
Canada and the U.S. began negotiations on the Treaty in November 2018.
Hugh Keenleyside Dam
The Columbia River Treaty Review Public Consultation Report summarizes the consultations processes and the input received.
You can stay updated on Treaty negotiations at the BC Treaty Engage website and by subscribing to the Columbia River Treaty Newsletter.