At first glance, Multinational Water and Power Inc.’s proposal to borrow North Thompson River water to supply parched US Sunbelt states sounded relatively insignificant in its impact on the North Thompson Watershed. The brief overview of the planned project circulated for public consumption in 1992 made reference to diversion of “waste water”or surplus runoff. The water was to be pumped through a tunnel into the Columbia River System, and conveyed from there to the Shasta Reservoir in California which was very low at the time.
However, closer perusal of the data provided, as pointed out by North Thompson Indian Band (NTIB) Chief Nathan Matthew, indicated that one percent of surplus runoff actually referred to one per cent of the entire Fraser River Basin. However, that one percent would be taken not from the outfall of the Fraser Basin on the Lower Mainland, but from the North Thompson River near Albreda. And at that point, upstream of the confluence of the North Thompson and the Clearwater Rivers, that one per cent of the Fraser Basin surplus would constitute 20 to 25 per cent of the total flow of the North Thompson.
Reprinted from the Monday, July 13, 1992, issue of the Yellowhead Star
River diversion plan opposition unanimous
By Ann Piper
They came from up and down the North Thompson Valley, from McLure to north of Clearwater, but the estimated 60 persons clustered in the Chu Chua Community Hall on the evening of July 6 were of one voice. Their opposition to proposed mega-project diverting an insignificant-sounding percentage of the North Thompson River’s water to the US drybelt was unanimous, and it was strong.
First comment from the floor of the meeting, addressed to Kamloops MP Nelson Riis, was representative of one popular position:
“What can you do, and how can we help,” an older man asked the MP. “If you want my old shotgun, I’ll bring it along.”
“Negotiation (with the United States) didn’t work,” a Clearwater woman pointed out in reference to on-going softwood lumber squabbles across the border. “The people of Canada have to say, ‘Enough.’”
“That lake in the Kootnays (drawn down to feed needs further down the Columbia River system) is down 30 feet; you can’t negotiate – it’s better to give them nothing,” said another voice.
Some voices cautioned that failing to agree to sell water south might trigger military intervention from the US; better to negotiate the best possible “deal” than to risk having the water taken by force, they reasoned.
Still others said if the diversion was inevitable, perhaps it should be undertaken by government, which could then apply the profits to the public pool.
Neither conciliatory suggestion won substantial approval.
Fully 88 per cent of the Nechako River will soon be diverted away from its natural course; small beginnings can open the door to devastating long-term developments others warned.
One woman quoted an unspecified federal study which, she said, indicates Canada will have its own water shortages within 20 years.
In the future, she asked, “Do we want to have to say we didn’t stand up and fight with the big sticks across the border?” The comment drew the evening’s loudest round of spontaneous applause.
“If we export water, we’ll export jobs; they can grow things a lot cheaper than we can,” another man warned. “We haven’t been told the whole story; we’re only seeing a part of it. Somewhere, there’s an overall plan.”
If the river level drops, adjacent water tables will drop also, the crowd was told. Water is being pumped from the water table into tankers to be trucked elsewhere in the Vernon area, another voice added, and nearby wells have been impacted by that exercise.
During the recent BC hot spell, Vancouver and Kamloops residents were urged to conserve water, a Barriere woman pointed out. “What are we talking about, exporting our water?” she demanded.
“If they get their foot in the door, by saying during high water they’ll take one million acre-feet, don’t you believe it,” one man stated. “The next thing you know, it’ll be two million, and the next thing you know, the North Thompson River would be dry.”
“Our native peoples are going to end up having more voice (because of land claim issues) than we are, and we’ve got to support them…They’re going to need it,” a female voice said and won a solid round of applause.
The mood of the crowd was intense.
Chairing the meeting throughout was North Thompson Indian Band (NTIB) Chief Nathan Matthew.
“While Natives have lost out to the ‘political and economic forces (that) always ruled the day’ earlier in Canada’s history,” the NTIB chief said. “Now it’s 1992, and the government has found they have to deal with aboriginal rights. They are legitimate, clear and legal.
And among those rights, Matthew explained, are rights to natural resources, to “manage them with the people closest to us having input, to manage not for ourselves but for our children’s children – that’s where the future is.”
“How do we get behind you?” asked a voice from the crowd.
Matthew promised the group he would immediately obtain the backing of Shuswap Nation Tribal Council as well as Assembly of First Nations officials, capable of lending weight to local objections.
“We don’t agree with it and we’re not going to change come Hell or high water,” said Matthew. “We have to say, ‘You’re not getting the North Thompson River’s water, and that’s the end of it.’”
Others agreed upon goals, including getting the attention of CBC News as well as major American news media…mass meetings in North Thompson Communities. Kamloops and beyond highway signs “from Kamloops north, on every willing, privately-owned property,” highway information pickets, contacting such groups as Greenpeace, regional business and cattleman’s groups, Ducks Unlimited and a high profile news-magazine programs, and informing US presidential candidates of strong opposition to the diversion project.
When one voice in the audience asked, “Where are you going to get the money?” the response carried a barb of its own for federal officials: “Goin’ fishin’ – sell salmon.”
Editor’s note: The movement to stop the sale of water from the North Thompson River quickly grew. Government was picketed and lobbied, media became involved, and ‘Our Water Is Not For Sale’ signage was displayed on multiple properties throughout the valley. Eventually the people won – and the North Thompson River flows free.
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