Columbia River Treaty

The Columbia River Treaty is an international treaty between Canada and the United States that coordinates flood control and maximize electrical energy production on the Columbia River. It was signed in 1961 by Canada and the US and ratified by the U.S. in 1961 and Canada in 1964.

The Treaty requires Canada to store 15.5 Million Acre Feet (MAF) [the volume of water that would cover an acre of land one foot deep) or 19 119 250 billion cubic metres for flood control in perpetuity. This storage was accomplished with the construction of the Duncan, Hugh Keenleyside and Mica Dams in Canada. In return for the construction of the dams and the regulation of the water levels, the Province of British Columbia is entitled to half of the electrical downstream power benefits that the water generates on the dams located in the US. Canada was also entitled to half of the estimated value of the future flood control benefits in the US, in a one-time payment of $69.9 million.

The Treaty also permitted the US to construct and operate the Libby Dam on Kootenay River that flooded some land in Canada.

The Province of British Columbia sold their half of the downstream benefits for the first 30 years to the US, for a lump sum payment pooled together in 1964 from a consortium of US utilities of $274.8 million. This money was used by Canada to construct the dams.

Today, Canada's 50% share in the downstream benefits is worth approximately $250 to 350 million per year that is paid to the Government of British Columbia.

The Treaty currently has no specified end date but after 60 years, either country has the option to terminate or renegotiate with the provision of 10 years' advanced notice. The 60 year anniversary of the Treaty is in 2024, with advanced notice required by 2014.

Negotiations of the Treaty created three possibilities for dams on the Columbia River System. The first Plan was the McNaughton Plan that would have seen the creation of the Duncan and Mica Dams as well as a dam at Murphy Creek that would not flood the Arrow Lakes Valley and dams at Luxor, Bull River and Dorr that would rise the water level to the height of dry land. This was believed to be the most soundly engineered plan.

The second plan was the Treaty Plan, the flooding of the Arrow Lakes, construction of the High Arrow, Mica and Duncan Dams and the possibility of the creation of the Libby Dam in the State of Montana.

The third plan was the Conservation Plan, endorsed by professional engineers who lived in the area. It would have seen the creation of the Mica and Duncan Dams and the Murphy Dam (located between Castlegar and Trail) that would have backed water up to the Kootenay River but not impacted the Arrow Lakes. It would also not impact the southern reach of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Trench. This plan was also defeated.

The terms of the Treaty require Canada to provide a level of flood control for the US in perpetuity. Operation of the Treaty Dams would continue if desired, subject to the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, that requires international approval of any alteration to the river in one country that have an impact on another.

Columbia Basin Trust

During the negotiations of the Columbia River Treaty in the early 1960s there was a lack of local consultation on the impacts and benefits of the treaty and its repercussions and on where the Treaty dams would be located. In the early 1990s, as the initial 30-year lump-sum payment from the US to Canada for downstream benefits was about to expire, local governments, First Nations and citizens of the affected area came together to press the Provincial government for compensation. The Columbia River Treaty Committee was formed in 1992. It successfully negotiated the formation of the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) in 1995. The Trust was created with the mission to "support efforts by the people of the Basin to create a legacy of social, economic and environments well-being and to achieve greater self-sufficiency for present and future generations."

The Trust received an endowment from the Province of BC of $295 million which is approximately five percent of the total downstream benefits owned by the Province of British Columbia. The significant portion, $250 million was dedicated to fund new power projects and $45 million was reinvested for the benefit of Basin residents, to fund local business loans, real estate ownership, venture capital projects and short-term cash investments. The Trust also receives $2 million a year until 2012 from the Province of British Columbia.

Ensuring that the voice of the people of the Basin is heard and acknowledged during the possible renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty from 2014 to 2024 is also part of the Trust's role in the region.

The Columbia Power Corporation, a Crown Corporation was formed in 1994 as part of the Columbia Basin Accord to undertake and manage the power projects and investments as an agent of the Province. The CPC is a joint venture partner with the Columbia Basin Trust.