Hundreds attend Lake Roosevelt Forum Conference
Down to Earth NW Correspondent
The issues surrounding the Upper Columbia River, from the environmental effects to the economic well being of the communities in the region, provided the fuel for two days of discussions, presentations, fact exchanging and open dialogue at an annual conference held last week in Spokane.
Several hundred people, from scientists, government officials and dam operators, to tribal members, property owners and concerned citizens, gathered for the 2010 Lake Roosevelt Forum Conference held Nov. 15-16 in the Davenport Hotel downtown. The conference featured an assortment of round-table sessions and presentations on state, federal and tribal issues, set up to allow anyone in attendance to network, share information, and ask questions on the diverse topics to those in the know, said Andy Dunau, executive director of the Lake Roosevelt Forum organization.
“The reason the conference was organized is Lake Roosevelt is really the battery for the Columbia River power operation. It’s at the heart of a lot of the issues affecting the Upper Columbia River. So you have this tension, or this dynamic, between local interests and needs, and regional interests and needs,” he explained about the conference, now in its 10th year. “So the conference is the one place where we pull in people from Portland, Seattle, Boise, Canada and Idaho, and get them all in the same room at the same time to be able to network with each other, talk to each other and get the latest information. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
The topics were as varied as those in attendance. They included: Water quality, lake elevations, flood risk reduction, watershed planning, weed control, land use and recreation, and fishery needs. Booths were set up between the bays where the sessions were held, with vendors such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT, which represents the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Kalispel, Kootenai and Spokane tribes of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation) and citizen-led groups offering information.
“There are an unbelievable number of projects, and not just from Lake Roosevelt,” Dunau said, adding that people can address the specialists investigating issues such as the mercury levels in the fish pulled from the lake and the reasons for lowering the lake levels.
The future of the Columbia River Treaty was perhaps the most-discussed issue at the conference. The treaty, between the U.S. and Canadian governments, oversees power generation and flood risk reduction along the river.
About 18 months of power and flood control studies recently wrapped up Phase 1 of the treaty, which has no set end date and is up for potential renegotiation in 2024. The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently involved in the detail phase of the mammoth project, analyzing topics such as how the treaty will be paid for and how it will be implemented.
The U.S. and Canadian governments can make changes to the treaty as early as 2014, though federal, state, tribes and stakeholders need to cooperate and provide input before any recommendations are passed on to the U.S. State Department in three years, said Witt Anderson, the regional director of programs for the U.S. Army Corps of Volunteers Northwestern Division, at a Monday luncheon presentation.
“I’d say everything is on the table,” he said about possible treaty recommendations.
D.R. Michel, executive director of UCUT, said it’s important that the tribes have a say in the review process. “We’re working hard at getting a seat at that table and have a voice in the implementation,” he said.
The fact that so many people participated in the annual conference is a sign of its success, the Lake Roosevelt Forum’s Dunau said. The forum is dedicated to the environmental and economic well-being of the communities in the region through various groups, and the conference is an opportunity to broadcast the work of everyone involved, he added.
“We’re really a clearinghouse of information, a non-partisan organization trying to take all these complex projects and help people understand what they mean to them in a daily, meaningful way,” Dunau said. “We are really, really proud of the amount of local community folks who come in to this. This is the one time they get to learn about specific questions.”
John Clemens, a public affairs representative for the U.S. Geological Survey, explained the conference as a transparent meeting of the minds behind the issues affecting the Upper Columbia River.
For example, he explained, the USGS took core samples from the lake bed so that the non-regulatory agency could analyze the distribution of slag particles from a smelter across the border. The metals found in the samples cycle through the food chain, and the discovery of elevated concentrations of mercury in fish tissue resulted in a consumption advisory from the Washington State Department of Health.
“Sharing information – that’s critical,” Clemens said. “We bring information here and help people understand what we studied and what the results mean. But we also make connections with people and see what their needs are, see what new areas they are working on, see if there are any new phenomena, and establish a person-to-person connection. It’s really to help each other out.”