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Remembering Vanport Flood’s double tragedy

News Release: May 23, 2018

4:05 p.m. Memorial Day: A moment of silence to remember the double tragedy of the Vanport Flood

Canadians, impacted by resulting Treaty, ask Americans to rethink flood risk management in the lower Columbia River Basin

Canadian-United States Treaty Negotiations to start May 29 – the day following Vanport Flood memorial

Reporter Contacts:

Without warning, on Memorial Day 1948, a combination of heavy winter snowfall, warm temperatures, and spring rainfall sent torrents down the Columbia River, breaking through a railroad embankment serving as a levee, and destroying Oregon’s second largest city, Vanport, near Portland. Built in the floodplain of the Columbia River close to the confluence with the Willamette River, Vanport provided housing for thousands of low-income people. The floodwaters killed at least fifteen people, left 18,000 others homeless, and washed away the community.

The governments of the United States and Canada seized on the Vanport flood to promote a treaty that would authorize dams upstream in British Columbia and Montana, eventually forcing thousands of residents from their homes, and permanently flooding vast river valleys of the Upper Columbia River Basin. Particularly devastating for indigenous people who had lived in the Columbia River Valley for thousands of years was loss of burial grounds and cultural sites, compounding the loss of massive salmon runs caused by Grand Coulee dam. And now, on the 70th anniversary of the Vanport Flood, the United States and Canada are entering into negotiations to modernize that agreement known as the Columbia River Treaty.

“Recognizing the double tragedy impacting thousands of people in Vanport and subsequently in our Canadian and First Nations communities in the Upper Columbia River, we ask for a moment of silence on Memorial Day,” said Mindy Smith, a physician living near Trail, British Columbia. “We also ask that each Memorial Day going forward, we pause to remember and reflect on this double disaster and how people of the Basin are bound together by more than a treaty, but by our need and responsibility to seek equity of benefits and costs in river management.”

The Vanport Flood and its devastating consequences for the upper Columbia River Basin was the focus of a 2016 conference, One River – Ethics Matter, hosted by the University of Portland. This was part of the conference series of Columbia River reconciliation based on the 2001 Columbia River Pastoral Letter by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the international watershed. Highlights of the Portland conference focusing on the Vanport Flood can be viewed on a short film: Portland: One River – Ethics Matter.

“As negotiators for the United States and Canada prepare to sit down to discuss the future of the River, the double tragedy of the Vanport Flood needs to be remembered,” said Martin Carver of Nelson B.C. and coordinator of the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative. “With continued floodplain development in the Portland area and elsewhere, and with escalating risks from climate change, the scope of the floodplain problem going forward will only increase.   Americans should not continue to rely on the devastation of upstream ecosystems and communities to allow for downstream floodplain development in Portland. That is fundamentally unjust and cannot be sustained.”

“The Columbia River is one river and ethics matter,” said John Osborn, physician and coordinator of the Columbia River Roundtable. “Past decisions have located people and structures in harm’s way by building in downriver floodplains while permanently flooding upriver valleys with dams and reservoirs – once biologically and culturally rich river valleys now wastelands. The Treaty dams are not going away. But we need to rethink dam management to improve river health and restore salmon runs while protecting communities. That is a compelling legacy of the Vanport Flood double tragedy.”

The moment of silence is scheduled for 4:05p.m. PDT on Memorial Day (U.S.)   The next day, May 29, in Washington D.C., the United States and Canada will begin formal negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty. (link)

Links:

 

Vanport, Oregon – photo from BlackPast.org

 

 


Northwest, British Columbia need to stand together to modernize the Columbia River Treaty

News Release – June 22, 2017

Conservation and faith groups respond to seven NW Members of Congress:

Yes – negotiations need to move forward – but include restoring the Columbia’s health and avoid threatening Canada with treaty termination.  

Contacts –

Portland – Responding to a letter to President Trump signed by seven Members of Congress (MOCs) from the Northwest, today Northwest conservation and faith groups encouraged the United States to work for restoring the health of the Columbia and avoid threatening Canada with termination of the Columbia River Treaty. The United States currently has the authority to begin negotiations but the federal government in Canada has not finalized its position. The provincial elections in British Columbia and efforts to install Provincial leadership in the wake of the tight vote last month have also contributed to the delay in finalizing the Canadian federal government’s position.

“The people of the Columbia River Basin – in both nations – can ‘hang together or hang separately,’” said Joseph Bogaard of Save Our wild Salmon.  “We support moving forward to negotiate a modern Columbia River Treaty. But terminating the Treaty, or threatening to do so, is counter-productive. Our leaders in both nations need to work together, in good faith, to manage the Columbia River for the Common Good.”

The Columbia River is an international river managed jointly by the United States and Canada using the Columbia River Treaty. The Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin is water rich, comprising only about 15 percent of the Basin’s land area, but producing about 40 percent of the River Basin’s water. Two centuries ago when Lewis & Clark and David Thompson first greeted indigenous people of the river basin, the Columbia was among the richest salmon rivers on earth. Since then, large dams and reservoirs have transformed the river into an integrated hydropower system.

On June 21, seven members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump, outlining the history of the Columbia River Treaty, encouraging treaty negotiation and threatening treaty termination. The MOC letter does not include several important historical elements, including that communities in the Columbia Basin, especially tribes and First Nations, were never consulted in writing the international river treaty. Nor does the MOC letter mention that the benefits of damming the Columbia River for hydropower and flood risk management came with wrenching costs to salmon and people who depend on the river.

“The United States has come a very long way to try work with Canada to right historic wrongs and support river stewardship,” said John Osborn, a Northwest physician with the Ethics & Treaty Project. “We continue to encourage the Treaty Power Group and elected officials that the way forward is working in good faith and through respectful dialogue with our neighbors to the north to promote the Common Good — including river stewardship and passage for salmon now blocked by dams.”

In 2013 following years of discussions and thousands of letters from concerned citizens, federal agencies recommended that the State Department include restoring the river’s health (“Ecosystem Management”) as a primary purpose of an updated treaty, along with hydropower and flood control. All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  In 2016 the United States began encouraging Canada to negotiate.

“Citizens of the Columbia Basin care about power bills but also care about stewardship, social justice, and advancing the Common Good,” said The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner, a retired Lutheran minister and educator. “Threatening Canada with treaty termination carries great risks to all life in the Basin now and into the future — including deep drawdowns of U.S. reservoirs in Idaho and elsewhere in the Basin, which will negatively affect the Columbia River ecosystem and power generation.”

The Treaty Power Group’s, and some congressional members’ willingness to threaten termination is short-sighted and undermines the goodwill and constructive approach that is needed to address the full range of issues that must be addressed in a modern river treaty. If the Treaty is terminated, then the U.S. will be required to shoulder the entire burden of flood risk management with U.S. dams, with no assistance from assured flood storage from Canada. This will cost the U.S. billions of dollars in flood protection and recompense from its own dams — and destroy coordinated and cooperative U.S. and Canada flood risk management that has existed as an international model for more than 50 years.

“Protecting and restoring healthy salmon populations in the Columbia Basin represents an unparalleled opportunity for our region to invest in the economy, create family-wage jobs and improve our quality of life and the health of our environment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council. “Healthy salmon populations deliver valuable and irreplaceable benefits to our region’s economy and ecology including thousands of jobs in guiding, retail sales, manufacturing, tourism, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

Links –

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Washington Water Watch: May 2017 Edition

In this issue, read about our upcoming Celebrate Water event and a bio of the Ralph Johnson awardee, John Osborn, meet our summer legal intern, learn about our latest victory on Icicle Creek, a recap on the Revelstoke, B.C. One River – Ethics Matter conference, and enjoy an update on the culvert case!

Read the May issue of Water Watch here.


Revelstoke B.C. hosts 4th annual One River – Ethics Matter conference

“The River is sacred.  People will put aside their differences when it comes to the River and bringing back the salmon.”
– the late Virgil Seymour (1958 – 2016) Arrow Lakes (Sinixt) Facilitator for The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

The May 13 “One River – Ethics Matter” conference opened with a welcome and call from Revelstoke’s Mayor, Mark McKee, for all people to work together on behalf of the Columbia River.  The day was truly remarkable for bringing together Upper Columbia River Basin’s First Nations, religious leaders, and community leaders and volunteers in respectful dialogue on the past and future of the Columbia River.

Free-flowing Columbia River, at Revelstoke B.C. – site of the 4th in the series of international conferences, “One River – Ethics Matter.” Prior conferences were held in Spokane, Portland, and Boise. In 2018, the fifth conference will be in Montana.

Some of the more memorable messages:

  • We do this work – returning the salmon and restoring the waters of the Upper Columbia – for our kids.
  • Indigenous people have been here from time immemorial, and we’ll continue to be here forever.
  • Churches and houses of worship are also symbols of community – and destroying or moving churches with the Treaty dams underscored the wrenching impacts on the people of the Upper Columbia.
  • Indigenous language carries meaning that is deeply important.
  • C. public schools have made major advances in environmental education.
  • All of us need more water rituals in our daily lives.
  • We all need to work together for the River and return of salmon.

First Nation and tribal leadership included Bonnie Leonard (Secwepemc), Sandra Luke (Ktunaxa), Chief Chad Eneas and Rosalie Wilson-Yazzie (Okanagan Nation Alliance), and D.R. Michel (Sinixt, Upper Columbia United Tribes), along with policy experts Bill Green (Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission) and Jay Johnson (Okanagan Nation Alliance).

Faith leadership included Anglican Archbishop John Privett, Roman Catholic Bishop John Corriveau, and Rev. Greg Powell of the Kootenay Presbytery.

Scholars and educators included Jeannette Armstrong (En’owkin Centre, Syilx scholar), Angus Graeme (President, Selkirk College), and Ariel McDowell (Principal of Aboriginal Education, School District 19).

This is the fourth in a conference series entitled “One River – Ethics Matter” that examines the moral dimensions of the dam-building era with a focus on First Nations (Canada) and Indian tribes (U.S.), and the river and life that depends on the river.

Earlier conferences explored the profound effects of dams from Grand Coulee upstream on tribes and First Nations; how protecting flood plain settlement and development in the Portland area has come at the cost of permanently flooding river valleys and native homelands upstream; and re-licensing of Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Complex of dams to provide passage for salmon now blocked from returning to the upper Snake River.  The Revelstoke conference focused on the catastrophic change that came with permanently flooding the immense river valleys of interior British Columbia as part of the Columbia River Treaty ratified in 1964.

The One River – Ethics Matter conference series is coordinated by the Ethics & Treaty Project.  The project is jointly hosted by CELP and Sierra Club.

Additional Revelstoke Links

Revelstoke Conference hosts:

North Columbia Environmental Society, Mir Centre for Peace, Selkirk College, Okanagan College Faculty Association

Revelstoke Conference sponsors:

Joan Craig, MD * Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson * Archbishop John Privett, Anglican Diocese of Kootenay * Ktunaxa Nation Council * Upper Columbia United Tribes * Laurie Arnold PhD * North Columbia Environmental Society * Sierra Club BC * Yellowstone to Yukon * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southwestern Washington Synod * Citizens for a Clean Columbia * Columbia Institute for Water Policy * Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Washington State Chapter * Sierra Club, Washington State Chapter * Tom Soeldner & Linda Finney * Center for Environmental Law & Policy * Rachael & John Osborn

 


Boise Conference on Ethics, Hells Canyon Dams, and the Columbia River Treaty – March 14, 2016

News Advisory

Contacts:

Conference:

  • When: March 14, 8:30am-4:00pm
  • Where: Boise State University, Student Union Building
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • RSVP:  www.celp.org/ethics-boise/
  • RSVP Deadline: March 10

Religious and tribal leaders from the Snake River and Columbia Basins will lead a one-day conference on ethics and the future of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The conference is spurred by two events: re-negotiation of the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty, and re-licensing of Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Complex of dams.

Many are unaware of the Snake River and Columbia River dams’ negative effects to native people, and the exclusion of native people from the decisions to build them. Speakers will explore ethical frameworks for these decisions that embrace indigenous people, salmon and the waters of both rivers. Native people impacted directly by dam-building will describe past and present effects on their people and cultures, and native and religious leaders will describe opportunities to modernize river management that promote justice for all people and the health of the river.

This is the third in a conference series titled “One River, Ethics Matter,” to explore the moral dimensions of the dam-building era, with a focus on Indian tribes and First Nations, and the rivers themselves. The Columbia River Pastoral Letter, issued by Northwest Catholic bishops in 2001, provides a foundation and framework for the conference series. This series is modeled on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation public dialogue in the wake of apartheid. This Boise conference follows two in Spokane and Portland.

Speakers include: Charlotte Rodrique, chair of the Burns-Paiute Tribe; Pauline Terbasket, director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance in British Columbia; Bishop Martin Wells, Eastern Washington-Idaho Lutheran Synod; Ted Howard, cultural resources director of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes; Leotis McCormack, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee; and Rabbi Daniel Fink of Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise.

Earlier conferences in Spokane and Portland explored the profound effects of dams from Grand Coulee upstream on tribes and First Nations, and how protecting flood plain settlement and development in the Portland area has come at the cost of permanently flooding river valleys and native homelands upstream. The Boise conference will examine companion issues in the Snake River as well as the Columbia.


Hosted by
Departments of Anthropology and Political Science & School of Public Service
Boise State University