Kootenay-East MLA Bill Bennett had some tough words for an American audience in Spokane regarding the Columbia River Treaty on Wednesday.
“This was the first time, that on behalf of the B.C. government, that I actually said to an American audience what B.C.’s expectations are,” Bennet said, “should we decide together—our two countries—to make changes to the [Columbia River] treaty.
“…This treaty is all about the equitable sharing of the impacts and the benefits and currently, it’s our view in B.C. that we don’t receive enough value for the multiple benefits that the US receives from the treaty.”
Considering the American audience, Bennett said his comments were the first time that the B.C. government’s concerns were aired publicly.
“It is a position that is very much contrary to a lot of comments that have been coming out of the US for the last six months to a year about B.C. already receiving too much from the treaty,” Bennett said.
The province currently receives roughly $150 million in benefits from the treaty, but Bennett is hoping that provincial and federal officials can engage with their American counterparts to address those concerns.
Specifically, Bennett feels that the province isn’t receiving enough value for the benefits that the Americans receive as part of the treaty.
He notes that the Columbia River allows for a barge transportation system that allows Washington, Oregon and Idaho to reap billions of dollars worth of goods from imports and exports.
“Part of the reason they have a successful commercial river transportation industry is because of the management that we provide for water in Canada,” said Bennett.
He also notes that water management, on the Canadian side of the border, also provides irrigation benefits to their agriculture and fishing industries.
However, flood avoidance and it’s value is one of the most important issues to Bennett, as Canadian management has prevented any flooding incidents such as the one at Vanport, Oregon, that wiped out the town in 1948.
“What is the value of that flood avoidance? What is the value of that? I think it would be very, very significant, so we’re actually going to try to determine what the value is,” Bennett said.
The B.C. government has already begun preliminary consultations to address concerns from Columbia Basin residents, and the compensation received from the treaty. However, there hasn’t been much communication with the American side.
“Their State Department is in charge in Washington and we haven’t heard a peep from them. This treaty carries on forever, unless one of the parties serves notice of termination,” said Bennett.
“We’ve already announced we do not intend to serve notice of termination. The U.S. actually don’t have to say anything. The treaty will carry on forever the way it is. So we’re hoping that they will engage with us so we can talk about improvements, but we’re going to have to wait and see.”
The B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas was across the 49th parallel to talk about the 50-year old treaty, which is now eligible for unilateral termination from both sides, provided there is a 10-year notice.
That is not the intention of either side, according to Bennett, but there seems to be a mismatch of on the Canadian side for monetary benefits.