The Columbia River Treaty: Past, Present and Future

Report from workshop reviewing the history, purpose and scope of the Columbia River Treaty, evaluating where it stands today and options for improvement.

The workshop was organized and hosted by the B.C. Branch of the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA) and the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University. Other key supporters and sponsors included the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB), the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Town of Osoyoos, Associated Engineering B.C. Ltd., and Summit Environmental Consultants Inc. The presentations and discussions addressed the unique socio-economic situation of the Okanagan Valley as a sub-basin of the Columbia, as well as the social, economic, legal and environmental concerns, anomalies and impacts of this aging international treaty on the wider Columbia River Basin.

Key points agreed to by workshop participants included: Renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty needs to be an inclusive process, involving local populations and First Nations on both sides of the border; the Columbia River Treaty needs to have enough flexibility to address climate and hydrologic change; fisheries, fish passage, and fish habitat must be enhanced throughout the Columbia River Basin (including the Okanagan River); and there is an opportunity to broaden discussions for an international agreement that covers the entire Columbia Basin.

Panelists and convenors agreed that the current Treaty is likely too narrow a basis on which to govern an international river basin, and that careful consideration of Basin governance beyond the Treaty’s parameters will be key going forward.