Columbia River Calling

Reflections on the Columbia River Basin: 2014 Conference

Back in October, I attended the Columbia River Basin 2014 Conference in Spokane.  If you missed the conference, the presentations and summaries of the sessions are available here.  Now, here are a few of my observations from the conference.

  • Unity over ecosystem based function and fish passage? – Addressing ecosystem function issues in the basin was a dominant theme of the conference. Incorporating ecosystem health into the Treaty and beyond (possibly at the cost of other river benefits) received little to no push back.  This was surprising based on what I’ve heard around the basin.  While many support the general idea, there is not agreement on what ecosystem objectives we should seek in river management and how we should work to achieve them.  I wondered if folks did not speak up in opposition to fish passage and inclusion of ecosystem function in the Columbia River Treaty because, 1) they did not attend the conference, or 2) they did not feel safe sharing an opposing view.
  • Shift in thinking about how to pursue fish passage – A number of participants cautioned against trying to link bringing salmon back to Canada to the Columbia River Treaty. The BC Provincial view is that salmon passage is a domestic issue and the US Regional Recommendation suggests a joint preliminary investigation into the matter.  With no timeline for possible Treaty discussions between the US and Canada, a number of people were talking about pursuing fish passage past Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee into Canada through other means.
  • Interest in other transboundary governance – A lot of people were talking about the need for transboundary governance in the basin beyond the Columbia River Treaty. However, it was hard to pin down exactly what a transboundary organization would do.  To figure that out a few folks are looking to conducting an inventory of existing transboundary projects in order to identify gaps that a new organization could fill.
  • Lack of transboundary understanding – I was struck by how much both Americans and Canadians don’t know about the experiences of their neighbors or the state of the river on the other side of the border. I think the conference helped educate its attendees, but we still have a lot to learn about each other and about our basin.
  • Value of a tailored meeting structure – The conference tried a few different ideas for structuring the three days of the meeting. This included limited presenters and panelists to 5 minutes each in order to allow for questions.  I liked how it forced speakers to hone in on their key points and allowed for there to be some dialogue on the topics at hand.  The conference also employed a “think wall” as a way for participants to share their thoughts and gather discussion points for the breakout sessions.  The conference organizers also hired a graphic facilitator to capture emerging themes from the meeting in visual form.  It all worked very well.
Columbia River Think Wall

Columbia River Think Wall

  • Power of art and culture as a unifying force – Some of the conference organizers pushed for including art from a number of artists residing in the basin. It meant for some very long days at the conference, but the art added a lot to the conference.  My favorites included:
    • A young resident of the basin, Nevah, singing “The Columbia River Song” with her grandfather, former Councillor of the City of Trail, Gord DeRosa
    • Toma Villa
    • Elementary school students from the Salish School of Spokane performing a couple of songs
    • Betty Fahlman

Those are my reflections, check out a few more:

Graphic facilitator in action

Graphic facilitator in action

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