Energy Minister Bill Bennett caused a stir at a conference on the Columbia River treaty with a speech calling for the U.S. government to pay more for the power and flood protection they receive.
Bennett was in Spokane last week to address the Columbia River Basin Transboundary Conference. In an interview after his speech, he said it was the first time B.C. has laid out its expectations for the 50-year-old treaty.
“I didn’t get any discourteous responses from the audience, but I think there were definitely a few people who were a bit shocked,” Bennett said. “I think there are a lot of folks here in the U.S. who think that the $150 million we get is more than what we should get each year, and I said I don’t think it’s nearly enough.”
The annual payment represents half the value of electricity generated downstream of dams on the Columbia River. After the treaty took effect in 1964, BC Hydro constructed the Mica, Duncan and Hugh Keenleyside dams on the Columbia system, with the help of a $275 million payment from the U.S. government.
The treaty was reached by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower after devastating floods in 1948 that destroyed the community of Vanport, Ore. On the B.C. side, the flood left most of the lower part of Trail B.C. underwater and destroyed crops at Creston.
Bennett said both the cost of the dams to B.C. farmland and wetlands, and the value of flood control to the U.S., are not well recognized south of the border.
“At one time the land around Arrow Lake produced more fruit and vegetables than the Okanagan,” he said. “Back in the ’50s it was a very fertile valley and it’s all underwater now. So the people on our side of the border really want us to get some more resources to enhance fish and wildlife and agriculture in Canada.”
The treaty has no expiry date, but contains a provision that either side can give 10 years’ notice to cancel it. B.C. announced last March that it wants to continue the treaty and discuss the terms.
Bennett said the U.S. government has given no indication of its intentions, and has no obligation to do so. State and local officials in Washington and Oregon recently questioned whether the existing payments should continue, but that has subsided recently, he said.