Compensation for greater US competition a key issue for fruit and vegetable growers
by TOM WALKER
KELOWNA – Negotiations to update the 55-year-old Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the US are ramping up.
Ratified in 1964, the treaty’s main purpose was to optimize power generation and flood control for both Canada and the US. Three dams were constructed in Canada: Duncan in 1967, Arrow/Hugh Keenleyside in 1968 and Mica in 1973. Canadian land was set aside for a reservoir when the US built Libby dam in Montana in 1972. Canada manages 15.5-million-acre feet of water a year to help both Canadian and US utilities gain optimum power generation and lessen the potential for floods.
“Power and flood control were the only items of importance in the day,” Kathy Eichenberger, executive director of the BC Columbia River Treaty Review, told a recent meeting of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.
The treaty benefits the US by managing river flows, which helps control flooding, manage power generation potential, maintain navigation conditions, enhance fisheries and provides late season irrigation and recreation opportunities.
BC receives an entitlement to sell power on the open market, worth $180 million last year, as well as increased power generation capacity. The Revelstoke dam, for instance, could not have been built if the Mica dam hadn’t been built first.
But BC lost a lot – more than 600 square kilometres of fertile bottom land was flooded, 2,300 people were relocated, entire communities were displaced, and First Nations cultural sites were lost. Fluctuating water levels have a significant impact on communities alongside the reservoirs the dams created. Nakusp residents, for example, have to deal with a 20-metre change in lake levels that make it tough to establish docking facilities.
Moreover, BC citizens were not consulted in the initial treaty process.
That changed in 2014, when the BC government made the decision to continue the treaty and seek improvements within the existing framework. A review over the last three years included community meetings in Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, Cranbrook, Jaffray, Invermere, Golden, Revelstoke Nakusp and Fauquier. There is on-going consultation with the three First Nations in the region and Eichenberger says they’ll return to the other 10 communities that hosted meetings.
She says the top two negotiation issues for BC are “clear gains over the status quo regarding economic, social, environmental and Indigenous interests and economic return of [an] equitable share of all US benefits.”
“The true value of the treaty to the US is much more than power and flood control,” she says. “That needs to be recognized by the US.”
BC fruit, potato and onion growers face stiff competition from US producers who are able to pump water out of Lake Roosevelt and irrigate land that only receives five to eight inches of rain a year.
“That irrigation water allowed growers to switch from dry land farming of oats, barley and sugar beets to fruit trees, asparagus and onions,” noted Adrian Arts, a young orchardist from Summerland. “I’ve been on a 1,000-acre orchard down there. You can see these huge swathes of green in between the dry sagebrush.”
The key to this orchard success is flow timing.
While the Grand Coulee dam was constructed before the Columbia River treaty, Canadian water management ensures late summer and early fall flows provide enough water to finish the irrigation season and prepare the thousands of acres of fruit trees in the area for the winter.
As well, flow management provides water for spawning fish.
The true value of this water is hard to measure, however. Calculating that benefit, and the potential for increased economic benefit going forward, will be challenging.
BC Fruit Growers Association general manager Glen Lucas has been gathering background on the economic benefits of shaping the water flow.
“That has not been a hard sell because the US has done an irrigation study and they know,” says Lucas. “But we need to come up with a methodology to determine how that shaping of the water flow benefits agriculture.”
“We know that conversation is coming,” says Eichenberger. “We are far apart, but collaboration seems to be the tone.”
There have been four negotiation sessions to date. A fifth is scheduled for late February.
There is some urgency on the US side. The agreement to manage flows for flood control expires in 2024. After that, Canada no longer has to provide assured storage and the US must use their own storage capacity first before Canada can be “called upon” (as the treaty describes it). That means the current flow patterns for power, fish, recreation and agriculture could be completely disrupted.
“The US Army Corps of Engineers is very concerned about this,” says Eichenberger, noting that the window doesn’t leave enough time to build more flood control capacity. “If we don’t agree on something, they are going to be in a very difficult situation.”
Washington famers might add to that urgency. Some very productive farmland sits outside the Columbia Basin. Up until now, they have relied on deep wells, and those wells are running dry. They are licking their lips as they look towards Lake Roosevelt.
Vol. 105 Issue 2
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
One province, one panel
Groundwater deadline extended
Happy as a pig!
Sidebar: Still waiting
Feds pour millions into tree fruit research
Sidebar: Will local procurement help?>
Editorial: Confined spaces
Back Forty: BC farmers need more than a land bank
Island Good campaign drives local sales
Poultry industry seeks to stop infighting
Egg farmers to receive biggest quota boost ever
New entrant focus
Decision day looms for chicken pricing appeal
Producers look to CanadaGAP for certification
Organic sector undertakes core review
Hopping to it!
Island couple named Outstanding Young Farmers
Turkey consumption continues to decline
BC potato growers enjoy a strong footing
Sudden tree fruit dieback a growing concern
Late season BC cherries in global demand
Farmers’ markets aim to be local food hubs
Field trial hopes to reduce phosphorus levels
Future looking bright for BC dairy producers
BC could benefit from US trade battles
Saputo puts its Courtenay plant out to pasture
The land of milk and salmon
Sidebar: Farming for the future
Out of the hands of BC farmers
Codes of practice need producer input
Preparation essential for wildfire response
Sidebar: Relief announced for drought, fire
Sidebar: Be FireSmart with these tips
New traceability regs to track movement
Agriculture a notable threat to species at risk
Improper pesticide use threatens access
Threat to neonics spurs scare in spud growers
Orchard presses forward with diversification
Staying on top of soil health is key to sound farming
No small potatoes
Farm families need to have affairs in order
Rotary parlours go upscale at two FV dairies
Study compares organic, conventional diets
Advisory service foresees growing demand
Sidebar: Tree fruit cutbacks a concern
Island dairy producers hone first aid skills
Woodshed: And that’s how rumours get their teeth
Research farm showcases small projects
Jude’s Kitchen: Shooting stars of spring