Near BC’s community of Canal Flats, the Kootenay and Columbia rivers come within two kilometres of each other. This proximity has given rise to many plans to divert Kootenay River into the Columbia to control the flows of both rivers.
William A. Baillie-Grohman
In the 1880s, English entrepreneur William Adolf Baillie-Grohman thought of the first diversion plan. By building a canal to divert Kootenay River into the Columbia, he could reduce the volume of water in the Kootenay and thereby reduce the likelihood of flooding in Kootenay Flats at Creston. These flats could then be used for agriculture. Although Baillie-Grohman built the canal, many opposed his idea and the canal was never used.
Columbia River Treaty
The Columbia River Treaty gave Canada the right to divert water from Kootenay River into the Columbia at Canal Flats. This water could then be used to increase hydroelectricity production or reclaim Kootenay Flats.
However, the diversion would have meant the loss of communities, transportation routes and important habitats for waterfowl, migrating birds and mammals. Sedimentation would have increased in Columbia and Windermere lakes, and water temperature would have decreased in the southern part of Columbia Lake. It also would have affected tourism.
In 1973, Libby Dam was built in Montana. This dam could control the water in Kootenay River and reduce the likelihood of flooding near Creston, meaning diverting water from Kootenay River into the Columbia was no longer necessary to manage flows. The diversion plan was shelved.
During the early negotiations of the Columbia River Treaty, the United States was unwilling to pay Canada for the downstream benefits of the treaty: the fact that water storage in Canada would increase the river’s capacity to generate power, thereby benefiting U.S. power companies and industries.
To counter this, General McNaughton, the Canadian chair of the International Joint Commission, proposed diverting Kootenay River into the Columbia, and then diverting the Columbia River into the Fraser River. Doing so would increase flow, which could be used at a later date to generate hydroelectricity in Canada. The United States soon agreed to pay downstream benefits to Canada.
North American Water and Power Alliance
In 1964, the Ralph M. Parsons Company of Los Angeles proposed the North American Water and Power Alliance. It was a way to divert the “excess” water of northwestern North America that “needlessly” flows into the ocean to the drier areas of the continent.
By creating dams and reservoirs at high elevations connected by rivers and canals, they could channel water, through various generating stations, to arid climates. This would have flooded the Rocky Mountain Trench, forming a reservoir 800-kilometres long within Canada alone.
Although quickly dismissed at the time, the plan continues to resurface during years of drought in the southwestern U.S.