One River. Ethics Matter.

5th annual international conference on the past and future of the Columbia River

One River, Ethics Matter 2018:   waters of Montana

Advancing justice & stewardship in the Columbia River Basin

through Treaty renewal and negotiations

April 11, 2018  –  University of Montana, Missoula

“Every day I fished the Kootenai River. When they came to celebrate completing the dam I didn’t go. I cried all day. When they built the dam, they took away the river. That was when I died.”

– Maria Fraser  |  Libby, Montana

Planning Committee

Advisory Committee


Sockeye Salmon

One River. Ethics Matter.  (click for enlarged map

 Decisions today about the Columbia River look back on two centuries of exploitation and look forward to unfolding climate change.

The 1846 Oregon Treaty that drew the international boundary is a daily reminder that rivers — and the life that depends upon rivers — are vulnerable to man’s arbitrary political boundaries.

For 150 years Canada and the United States have enjoyed a close relationship between nations. As the Trudeau and Trump administrations prepare to negotiate and modernize the Columbia River Treaty, it is particularly important to call on both nations to account for, and remedy the devastating consequences of the dam-building era on the Columbia River.

“It’s important for residents of the region to understand the history of what happened, so that we can have an informed voice in upcoming government discussions.”

– Eileen Delehanty Pearkes
author of A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change

In 1964, without consulting local people who would be impacted, the Canadian and British Columbia governments approved the Columbia River Treaty — and “Treaty dams.”  Devastation followed.

The Treaty dams forced thousands of citizens from their homes and submerged land that was of spiritual, cultural and historic significance to indigenous peoples. The flooding destroyed river ecosystems and wildlife habitat and wiped out rich agricultural land, leaving, at best, highly variable wetlands and, at worst, vast mud flats and awful dust storms.   Treaty hydropower power and resulting financial benefits leave the region on high-voltage transmission lines.   Valleys of the Upper Columbia suffer from extreme and unpredictable water fluctuations to provide flood protection mostly for Portland and U.S. floodplain development, and heavily subsidized irrigated agriculture in the U.S. (notably potatoes for French fry export).

In 1934, the Canadian government sided with its Deputy Ministry of Fisheries with regard to the fate of salmon runs to the Upper Columbia when he wrote to the Canadian embassy in Washington that no commercial salmon fishery existed on that part of the river, “and hence Canadian interests in that respect will not be affected if the dam at Grand Coulee is not equipped with fishway facilities.”

We invite people to explore with us the implications of the . . . idea of human stewardship of creation, and to effect a spiritual, social, and ecological transformation of the watershed.

The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good.

Roman Catholic Bishops of the international watershed, 2001

Justice, ethical and stewardship issues lie heavily on the landscapes and impounded waters of the Columbia River. In response, First Nations, tribes, faith communities and NGOs are engaging in respectful dialogue across the international border to undo the damage of the past and help prepare the river and our communities for an uncertain climate-change future.

About the Montana Treaty conference

Need text on unique regional aspects:  rivers of the Upper Columbia at the time of Lewis & Clark, David Thompson — what happened during the dam-building era, consequences, and the opportunities ahead through Treaty/river governance changes)


Hosted by
University of Montana Center for Natural Resources & Environmental Policy


Sponsored by

Columbia Institute for Water Policy  * Center for Environmental Law & Policy * Rachael & John Osborn