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Columbia River Treaty Must Address Climate Change and First Nations' Needs

<who> Photo Credit: BC Hydro via BC Government. </who> A public workshop on the future of the Columbia River Treaty held in Osoyoos has found that the Treaty must be modified to meet the needs of First Nations, growing population numbers, increasing competition for water; fisheries health and environmental values, as well as negative impacts on Canadian agriculture and the impact of a changing climate.

Organized by the Canadian Water Resource Association (CWRA) and the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT), the workshop took place on Wednesday, October 7th at the Sonora Centre.

The event incorporated a variety of featured presentations from local and provincial government, First Nations, and academia.

Grand Chief of the Okanagan Nation and President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Stewart Phillip, called for a renegotiation of the aging Treaty to ensure First Nations’ participation, and ultimately, consent in future negotiations.

“In the face of the devastation of climate change, it is crucial for the sake of our grandchildren and their grandchildren that the eco-system, including ensuring salmon passage to the Upper Columbia, become central to any new Treaty,” added Phillip.

First Nations were originally excluded from the Treaty, and the original assessment of impacts greatly underestimated the loss to fisheries and ecosystems in the region, according to workshop co-organizer Dr. Brian Guy if the CWRA.

“The prospect of a changing climate will have profound effects on the timing and quantity of river flows, such that overall water security will become a paramount issue on both sides of the international border,” said Co-convenor Deborah Harford, Executive Director of ACT.

Other key points addressed in the workshop include:

  • 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);
  • There is an opportunity to broaden discussions for an international agreement that covers the entire Columbia Basin, including the Okanagan and Similkameen River Basins, based on the successes achieved with other international agreements such as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the recently concluded Northwest Territories-Alberta trans-boundary agreement on the Mackenzie River.

Moving forward, a neutral convenor is expected to monitor progress on treaty negotiations to ensure that the concerns and interests expressed in Wednesday’s workshop are considered.

A progress report on this initiative will be reported to a national CWRA meeting in 2017, which will focus on trans-boundary agreements.

For more information as to what the Columbia River Treaty entails, click here.

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