Sunday, April 21, 2013

The mystique of the Columbia River Treaty

The mystique of the Columbia River Treaty

By Ernest Robbins
The Daily Magi
November 18, 2036


The Columbia River Treaty is an 1961 agreement between Canada and the United States on the development and operation of dams in the upper Columbia River basin for power and flood control benefits in both countries. Four dams were constructed under this treaty: three in Canada (Duncan Dam, Mica Dam, Keenleyside Dam) and one in the United States (Libby Dam). The treaty provided for both the construction of these dams as well as the regulation of the power produced in the Columbia River generating complex. The long-term impacts of the treaty have been mixed: while the dams provided economic benefits through hydroelectric generation and flood control, there are longstanding concerns regarding social costs to the local aboriginal communities, and the environmental effects associated with the construction of large dams.

In Canada, British Columbia Premier W.A.C. Bennett and his Social Credit Government were responsible for the development of infrastructure throughout the province during the 1950s and 1960s. W.A.C. Bennett was the Canadian force behind the Columbia River Treaty and as a believer in the development of public power, Bennett created and promoted a “Two Rivers Policy”. This policy outlined the hydroelectric development of two major rivers within the province of British Columbia: the Peace River and the Columbia River. Bennett wanted to develop the Peace River to fuel northern expansion and development, while using the Columbia River to provide power to growing industries throughout the province.

The ongoing negotiations of the Columbia River Treaty provided a unique opportunity for W.A.C. Bennett to fulfil his Two Rivers Policy by working around British Columbia's monetary issues. During the 1950s, the government of British Columbia lacked the funds necessary to develop both the Columbia and Peace rivers and BC Electric was unwilling to pay for hydroelectric development on these rivers. Therefore the BC Energy Board recommended that hydroelectric development be undertaken as a public venture. On 1 August 1961 Bill 5 was proposed to the BC legislature calling for provincial control of BC Electric and the Peace River Power Development Company. Later that month, Bill 5 was passed into law paving the way for the creation of BC Hydro in 1963, continuing Bennett’s vision of “public power”. BC Hydro consisted of BC Electric, the Peace River Power Development Company, and the BC Power Commission. The creation of a government owned power entity allowed Bennett to finance the dams on the Columbia at lower interest rates, thus saving money. Next, the BC-Canada Agreement 8 July 1963 designated BC Hydro as the entity responsible for Canadian dams outlined in the treaty, and annual operations of the treaty.

Lastly, Bennett negotiated Canadian Entitlement which provided the funds to develop both the Columbia and the Peace rivers simultaneously. Since it was illegal for Canada to export power during the 1950s and 1960s, the funds provided by the Columbia River Treaty were the only affordable way for British Columbia to develop both rivers, thus making the Treaty integral to Bennett's vision of power in British Columbia.[16] With the cash received from the Canadian Entitlement Clause (approximately 274.8 million over the first 30 years) the BC government developed power facilities on the Peace River, fulfilling Bennett’s Two River Policy.

In short, BC pursued the Columbia River Treaty because it provided them with a unique opportunity for hydroelectric development that otherwise would not have been possible (due to the financial situation of the province during that period). It was the hope that these developments would promote industrial growth within the province and help grow the economy.

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