The Tobacco Plains Development Corporation has applied to the B.C. Government for a long-term Licence of Occupation at two of its three campgrounds on Lake Koocanusa. File photo

RDEK board wrestles with Koocanusa water level issues

Amid Columbia River Treaty talks, RDEK board defeats motion to send letter on water levels, new dam

The RDEK board directors wrestled with sending a letter to the province requesting that federal negotiators include full pool water levels in the summer at the Lake Koocanusa reservoir in Columbia River Treaty negotiations between Canada and the U.S.

A motion to send the letter, introduced by Area B director Stan Doehle, also included a clause requesting that the federal government build a new dam near the 49th parallel if Libby Dam operations are unable to maintain the Koocanusa levels at 2,450 feet between June 1 – Sept. 30.

The motion was narrowly defeated after touching off a robust debate between directors who spoke on water level concerns from local residents, whether there had been advance consultation with the Ktunaxa Nation Council on the motion, and warnings of unintended consequences directly impacting the treaty negotiations.

Doehle, emphasizing that he was representing his Area B constituents, said the intent of the motion and the letter was to highlight resident concerns over low water levels in the reservoir, and ensure its consideration as a treaty negotiating point.

The motion was ultimately defeated, but not before RDEK directors debated deferring it in order to allow for more time for consultations with with the Ktunaxa Nation Council and treaty negotiators, among other sources.

Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick took issue with potential unintended consequences that the letter — and veiled threat of building a new dam on the Canadian side of the Koocanusa reservoir — might have on the treaty negotiations.

“That Libby Dam is but one node and Koocanusa is but one reservoir in a very complex system of flood management that goes throughout the Columbia River system,” said McCormick.

“The fact that we would have what would amount to a bit of a hissy-fit if this isn’t included in the negotiations, that we go and build our own dam? Under no circumstances could I support any resolution that has that in there.”

Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza and Radium Hot Springs Mayor Clara Reinhardt both objected to the letter, raising concerns about a lack of consultation with the Ktuanxa Nation Council and Tobbacco Plains Indian Band over the motion.

The issue of building a new dam on Lake Koocanusa arose out of advocacy from a local ad-hoc committee investigating the feasibility of a weir in the reservoir in order to maintain more stable water levels.

The province recently received an engineering report studying the feasibility of a new non-power generating dam in the reservoir, considering various scenarios using a baseline of 2,440 feet and above, rather than 2,450 feet or full pool of 2,459 feet.

The report estimates that a new dam could cost upwards of $400 million, and would need further investigation on questions surrounding a navigation lock, fish passage, and downstream ecosystem impacts on the American side.

Additionally, further issues include determining federal legal and regulatory hurdles, which agency would be the ‘owner’ of the dam, whether the U.S. would agree to the proposal and how Libby Dam operations in Montana would be affected or adjusted if it was built.

The Columbia River Treaty is a water management agreement between Canada and the United States that was ratified in 1964. The treaty facilitated the construction of three dams in Canada and one in the U.S. and with a focus on flood control management and power generation.

The treaty is currently under renegotiation between Canada and the United States, while the Ktunaxa, Syilx/Okanagan and Secwepemc First Nations are also participating in the talks as official observers.

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