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

Delays on Highway 3 at Kootenay Pass

DriveBC reminding travellers the area is an active wildfire zone and warning of fallen debris.

Kootenay fires grow — more evacuation alerts

Syringa fire prompts evacuation alerts plus HWY 3 closure and U.S. fire crosses into B.C.

Evacuation alert for Syringa and Deer Park

The Syringa Creek Fire grew Saturday resulting in evacuation alerts.

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Castlegar bridge designed by architect of collapsed Italian bridge

Riccardo Morandi designed the Kinnaird Bridge, which is part of Highway 3.

Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

More young people are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by social media, digital photography

Former Trump aide Paul Manafort found guilty of eight charges

A mistrial has been declared for the other 10 charges against him

Canada’s team chasing elusive gold medal at women’s baseball World Cup

Canada, ranked No. 2 behind Japan, opens play Wednesday against No. 10 Hong Kong

Former B.C. detective gets 20 months in jail for kissing teen witnesses

James Fisher, formerly with Vancouver police department, pleaded guilty to three charges in June

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark criticizes feds for buying pipeline

The $4.5 billion purchase of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline second worst decision, she said

‘Takes more courage to fail’: B.C. ultra-marathon swimmer reflects on cancelled try at record

Susan Simmons halted her swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back because of hypothermia

Animals moved from B.C. Interior shelters to make way for pets displaced by wildfires

The Maple Ridge SPCA houses animals to make space for pets evacuated from B.C.’s burning interior.

$21.5 million medical pot plant to be built in B.C.

The facility is to be built in Princeton

Spokane man enlists 500,000+ box fans to blow wildfire smoke back to B.C.

Spokane man Caleb Moon says he’s had enough with smoky skies from B.C.’s forest fires blanketing his city

Most Read