Columbia River Treaty turns 52

Historic Canada-U.S. agreement that dammed the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers is more than half a century old

It took 15 years of consultations before the Columbia River Treaty was signed by Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. The important treaty turned 52 years old on January 17.

The Columbia River Treaty is an international agreement between Canada and the U.S. to develop, regulate and manage the Columbia River on both sides of the border in order to control flooding and optimize electrical energy production.

The treaty itself has no expiry date, but after 60 years either side can terminate it or ask for changes, which will happen in September 2024. The deadline for any requests for changes is 10 years before the minimum length of the treaty, which falls in 2014.

Columbia Basin Trust has been conducting a number of information sessions through the basin in the past year to educate residents about this treaty and how it impacts life for local residents.

Before the treaty was signed after WWII, the mighty Columbia River was often spilling its banks as the population in the basin increased. Both sides of the border also saw an economic upswing, and energy needs were increasing.

And so began 15 years of deliberations and investigations by the International Joint Commission to develop a plan. The treaty was finally signed by Diefenbaker and Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. It was later ratified in 1964. The treaty meant that the countries could now move to control the catastrophic flooding, and that was done by the installation of three dams in Canada: the Hugh Keenleyside, Duncan and Mica, and the Libby Dam which thus created the Koocanusa Reservoir which is enjoyed mightily by vacationers and locals alike. The U.S. also paid Canada $64.4 million, which at the time was calculated to be half the worth of the flood protection the country would enjoy over the treaty’s 60-year life, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. It also gave Canada title to half the power produced, to be returned to Canada.

For more information on the Columbia River Treaty, visit the Columbia Basin Trust website, www.cbt.org/crt.