Columbia River Treaty Review

Join the Columbia River Treaty Discussion Online

The Columbia River, the fourth largest river on the continent as measured by average annual flow, generates more power than any other river in North America. While its headwaters originate in British Columbia, only about 15 percent of the 259,500 square miles of the Columbia River Basin is actually located in Canada. Yet the Canadian waters account for about 38 percent of the average annual volume, and up to 50 percent of the peak flood waters, that flow by The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

Canada and the United States were facing two major challenges in the Columbia Basin after the Second World War.
● the “untamed” Columbia River was causing periodic and sometimes devastating flooding, and
● an upswing in the economy and population increased the need for additional energy sources.

To solve these challenges, water needed to be stored in the upper Columbia Basin. In 1964, Canada and the United States ratified the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). The two purposes of the CRT are:
● to coordinate flood control, and
● to optimize electrical energy production in the Columbia River Basin in the United States and Canada.

Under the CRT, Canada agreed to build three storage dams – Keenleyside, Duncan and Mica – in the Canadian Columbia Basin. A fourth dam – Libby Dam – was built in the United States, with its reservoir backing up into B.C.

The Columbia Basin Trust was created in recognition of the absence of local input, drastic social upheaval, and permanent environmental and economic losses that resulted from the creation of the Columbia River Treaty dams.

By the early 1990s people became aware that an opportunity for public involvement might at last present itself. The sale of the first 30 years of  B.C.’s share of the downstream benefits was about to expire. Residents of the region were determined to have a voice in the matters concerning environmental, economic and social health. The Columbia Basin Trust was created in that spirit.  In the early 1990s leaders from First Nations, local communities and the Province of B.C. worked cooperatively on an agreement recognizing the impacts to the region. In 1995, Columbia Basin Trust was created with a unique mission to support efforts by the people of the Basin to create a legacy of social, economic and environmental well-being and to achieve greater self-sufficiency for present and future generations.  The Columbia Basin Trust was endowed with $295 million from the Province of B.C. (approximately five per cent of the total downstream benefits owned by the Province of B.C.).

During the creation of the Columbia Basin Trust there was extensive public consultation with Basin residents that resulted in the creation of the Columbia Basin Trust Management Plan. This plan is the guiding document for the principles of investing the initial endowment and creation of programs to support the social, economic and environmental well-being for the residents of the Canadian Columbia Basin.

Using this plan as a guiding document, CBT along with our power partner Columbia Power Corporation, made investments into upgrading existing hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia River system as well as building new generating stations on existing dams.

Part of the public consultation that was carried out with Basin residents in the creation of CBT clearly pointed out that one of the priorities for Columbia Basin Trust should be to “prepare” the residents of the Columbia Basin for the potential renewal or renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty when that opportunity occurs on 2024.

In order to carry out this mandate CBT has allocated staff and financial resources to it’s Water Initiatives Program. In addition, CBT has designated a board committee to oversee the program and appointed an advisory panel of outside experts to assist in the development of its water related programs. The Columbia Basin Trust is currently involved in a number of initiatives across the Columbia Basin to ensure that the views and values of the people of the Basin are a key component of any renewal or re-negotiation process for the CRT.

● Columbia Basin Trust, 2014/2024 Columbia Treaty Review (video) –
●  Center for Columbia River History –
●  Columbia River Treaty History (pdf) –
●  Columbia River Treaty Review (pdf) –

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