Reservoir behind Mica Dam, one of dams constructed under terms of the Columbia River Treaty. (Bonneville Power Ad)

Reservoir behind Mica Dam, one of dams constructed under terms of the Columbia River Treaty. (Bonneville Power Ad)

Latest round of Columbia River Treaty talks conclude in Kelowna

The 17th round of negotiations to modernization of the Columbia River Treaty concluded in Kelowna this week, according to a B.C. government update.

The decades-old water sharing agreement is in the process of being updated, as delegations from Canada and the United States have been working to find common ground since official talks began four years ago.

Key topics in those discussions include hydropower operation planning, integrating greater Canadian flexibility into treaty dam operations, incorporating Indigenous input into treaty operations, ecosystem health and enhancements and flood risk management in the U.S.

During the latest round, Canadian and U.S. delegations toured the kł cp̓əlk̓ stim hatchery near Penticton and took part in a sockeye salmon release ceremony hosted by the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

The reintroduction of salmon into river systems connected to the Columbia Basin is a key goal for the Syilx Okanagan, Ktunaxa and Secwepemc Nations, which are included as part of the Canadian delegation.

The Okanagan Nation Alliance and U.S. Tribes are leading efforts to restore historical range and abundance of sockeye salmon in the upper Okanagan watershed, Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake systems.

“Canadian negotiators believe this work is a prime example of what can be achieved through close transboundary collaboration and feel that such cross-border partnerships are critical to addressing ecosystem, economic and flood-risk management issues as the treaty modernization process moves forward,” reads a statement from the BC Government treaty negotiation update.

The treaty itself was ratified between Canada and the United States in 1964, which facilitated the creation of three dams in British Columbia and one in Montana as a water sharing agreement for hydropower generation and downstream flood control management.

However, the treaty has been historically criticized for its lack of consultation with Basin communities — particularly Indigenous communities — as the dam’s reservoirs inundated thousands of hectares of land, impacting Indigenous heritage and cultural values, as well negatively affecting ecosystems and agricultural, forestry and tourism sectors.