The summer of 2023 has brought drought conditions and exceptionally low water levels to Arrow Lake. Residents have become very concerned about the impact on recreation, tourism, the local economy, drinking water, and fish & wildlife habitats.
BC Hydro manages the dam operations on the Canadian side of the Columbia River Basin. However, BC Hydro is bound by the terms of the 60 year-old Columbia River Treaty, which dictates the schedule and amount of water that must be released to the U.S.A.
The treaty and its terms are a formal, legally binding written agreement between Canada and the U.S.A., bound by international law. The treaty is currently being renegotiated, with input from the Province of B.C. CRT Public Engagement process which began in 2012 .
The extreme low levels of Arrow Lake in the summer and fall of 2023 are a result of the lack of water (rain, streams) coming into Arrow Lake, combined with the treaty obligations of releasing water to the U.S.A. It is necessary for BC Hydro to hold back water in Kinbasket Lake (north of Arrow Lake) so that power production can continue in the winter. At the same time, the U.S.A. needs to store water in Lake Roosevelt for power production in the winter for their side. When there is no more snowpack or significant rain, that leaves Arrow Lake in the middle with no way to replenish.
Understanding the Columbia River Treaty and how it works helps us to understand the reasons behind these fluctuating lake levels. We hope this page will assist the public in a greater understanding of this important Treaty that has such a strong impact on our entire Basin region.
This information page will be updated periodically.
Can’t find the information you are looking for? Please let us know!
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ISSUE, START HERE:
- This document (“Overview of the Columbia River Treaty” PDF) is a great place to start. It answers core questions such as: What is the Columbia River Treaty? Why was it signed? What are its benefits? What are the roles and responsibilities? What is the timeline of events of the CRT?
- This Frequently Asked Questions page has additional answers to common questions about the CRT.
- Click here for maps of the Columbia Basin region and the Treaty dam system.
News & Updates:
- September 18th, 2023: Op Ed: “Arrow Lakes impacts top of mind in Columbia River Treaty negotiations“ by Kathy Eichenberger (Executive director, Columbia River Treaty, and B.C. lead, Canadian Negotiation Delegation)
TIMELINE OF THE CRT :
Detailed information about CRT history and the above timelines can be found here.
Like all international treaties, the process of negotiating, legislating and implementing the Columbia River Treaty is complex. Prior to and during negotiating, government conducts extensive public engagement. Once an “Agreement in Principle” has been reached between Canada and the U.S., there are several steps and processes required before the Treaty can be finalized. Once the Treaty is finalized, there are further administrative steps that are required to adopt the Treaty into law. See below for more info on all of these steps. [More info coming soon]
- This page from Government of Canada describes the policy of tabling treaties in Canada’s parliament.
The graphic below shows a high level overview of the Treaty process for the CRT. To learn more about each part of the process shown below, scroll down. [Updates to this section coming soon.]
The Treaty has no expiry date, however it has a minimum length of 60 years, which will be met in September 2024.
The year 2024 was the earliest either Canada or the U.S. could have terminated the Columbia River Treaty provided 10 years’ advance notice was given in 2014.
In 2013, the Government of B.C. released its decision to continue the Treaty and seek improvements within its existing framework.
Since active negotiations began in 2018, there have been 18 rounds of negotiation sessions, with more to be scheduled. Both countries have tabled confidential proposals outlining frameworks for a modernized Columbia River Treaty.
The current terms of the treaty can end no sooner than 2024, and only after an “Agreement in Principle” has been reached and the new Treaty is ratified and entered into legislation.
Be sure to sign up for the CRT Newsletter to receive updates about the negotiations. Reading past issues is a great way to catch up on ongoing developments.
Canadian Negotiating Team:
The Canadian negotiating team is comprised of:
- Chief negotatiator for Canada
- Lead negotiator for B.C.
- Global Affairs Canada
- Columbia Basin Indigenous Nations
- BC Hydro
- Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
- Natural Resources Canada (NRCan)
It should be noted that elected politicians (both Canadian and American) are not part of the negotiating team.
Local Governments Committee (LGC):
Local governments within the Basin have formed the BC Columbia River Treaty Local Governments’ Committee (LGC) to actively and meaningfully engage in decisions around the future of the Treaty.
Through the Committee, Basin local governments are working together to seek refinements to the Treaty and to address existing domestic issues to improve the quality of life for Basin residents.
Members include 2 representatives from each Regional District (RDKB, CSRD, RDCK, RDEK), one representative from Valemount, and one representative from the Association of Kootenay & Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG).
The committee has submitted a report of recommendations on the future of the CRT to the federal and provincial governments to inform the Treaty negotiations. The Committee’s 2021 Recommendations can be viewed here. Specifically, Recommendation #13 speaks directly to concerns about Arrow Reservoir levels.
Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Commitee (CBRAC):
CBRAC is a diverse Basin-wide group representing a broad range of perspectives, interests and geography, which help inform hydroelectric operations in the Columbia Basin and potential future improvements to the Columbia River Treaty.
- Local citizen representatives
- Indigenous Nations representatives
- Local government representatives
- Columbia Basin Trust representative
- Columbia Power Corporation representative
- Government of Canada representative
- Fortis BC representative
CRT Public Engagement Process:
The Provincial CRT team is comprised of staff from the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Low-Carbon Innovation (EMLI). It has been actively working since 2012, gathering information and feedback to inform the negotiators in their quest to make a better deal for Canada, B.C. and the residents of the Columbia River Basin.
Since 2012, the team has held approximately 50 in-person and virtual public meetings, and has been collecting feedback submitted in writing from Basin residents.
- To learn about all of the past meetings since 2012, and what questions, concerns and information was discussed, check out the “Public Engagement” page.
- To learn about how you can submit your own feedback, or to sign up for email updates, check out the “Ways to Participate” page.
BC Hydro is the entity appointed by the Provincial government to carry out the terms of the Treaty, and is responsible for the management and operations of the Treaty dams in B.C.
The U.S. entities are the Bonneville Power Administration and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Canada’s share of the downstream power benefits is called the “Canadian Entitlement”. It is calculated as half of the forecast additional hydroelectric energy generated by power plants on the Columbia River in the U.S. that result directly from the operation of CRT dams in Canada.
Under the Canada-BC Agreement, these benefits are owned by the Province. Canada sold the first 30 years of its Canadian Entitlement to a consortium of utilities in the U.S. for $254 million US. That agreement expired in phases and the Province of BC now receives the Canadian Entitlement worth approximately $120 million US annually.
Columbia Basin Trust (CBT):
During the creation of the Columbia River Treaty, Basin residents weren’t adequately consulted for their views, concerns or solutions.
In the early 1990s, residents, local officials and representatives from regional districts and tribal councils joined together to coordinate efforts, forming the Columbia River Treaty Committee. They successfully worked with the Province of BC to establish an endowment fund, which CBT continues to reinvest and manage.
CBT distributes these financial benefits back into the Basin communities according to the Columbia Basin Management Plan, which is based on feedback from our own Basin residents and communities.
CBT is not a decision-maker with regards to the CRT and is not an advocate for any specific future outcomes, other than to ensure Basin residents are meaningfully consulted through the process.
You can learn more about the Trust at the CBT website.
- WATCH: “Forming the Trust” – a must-see video about the early years of the formation of the CBT. It tells the story of how local representatives stood up for our local region demanding its fair share of the Treaty benefits.
Once an “Agreement in Principle” has been reached between Canada and the U.S., there are several steps and processes required before the Treaty can be finalized. Some of these processes include an extensive legal review (by both countries), translation into French, further community consultation, and a variety of administrative procedures to prepare the agreement for adoption into law.
Role of Hon. Katrine Conroy, Minister Responsible for Columbia River Treaty, Columbia Basin Trust, and Columbia Power Corporation:
Minister Conroy and elected officials on both sides are NOT directly involved with Treaty negotiation. Minister Conroy was given responsibility by the Premier of B.C. to oversee the Treaty processes and manage the legislative procedures involved with adopting the new Treaty into law. Please see the flow chart above for more information. [Coming soon]
This page is a work in progress and will be updated throughout the ongoing CRT process. Please let us know what kind of information you are looking for.
Thank you for your patience as staff continue to gather questions and answers on behalf of constituents. We will be updating this page regularly as more information becomes available.