In 1895, the Nelson Electric Light Company began building Cottonwood Falls Power Plant on the Kootenay River, west of Nelson. This was the first hydroelectric project on the Columbia River system in Canada, and other communities like Kaslo and Sandon quickly followed.
As the appetite for power grew and technology improved, hydro plants were constructed across the Basin. Industries like mining and smelting developed with the help of cheap, local power sources, and the region enjoyed an economic boost. Higher levels of government were also soon discussing hydro development plans, including the Kootenay River Diversion and Columbia River Treaty.
Today the Cottonwood Falls plant no longer exists and many of the other early dams and power plants have been dismantled or rebuilt entirely. However, dams and generating stations continue to play an important role in the local economy, and several have been built in Canada since the 1970s, including Mica, Revelstoke, Kootenay Canal and Seven Mile.