Friday, 22 March 2013

Really Technical...

In the spring of 2012, when the provincial government started engaging the people of BC on the question of whether or not to terminate the Columbia River Treaty, one question they were asked is “What would the Columbia Basin look like if we were not constrained by the Treaty?” A year is not a very long time to try to answer such a big question, but Treaty Review team has recently released a draft copy of their results, and conferences were scheduled this week in Golden and Castlegar.

There isn't truly a rush, since if either Canada or the US decided to terminate the treaty, 10 years notice has to be given, and the earliest that notice can be given is in September 2014. The goal of the Treaty Review is to “provide decision makers with an understanding of the range of physically possible operations” under each of three high level scenarios (referred to as Treaty Continue, Treaty Terminate, and Treaty Plus, which refers to some version of additional agreements that might be reached). They want to give that information to the Provincial government in the fall this year, so that the decision makers have time to consider whether to terminate the Treaty, and also what might happen if the US decides to terminate. So this Technical Report looks at a broad range of social and environmental values, as well as power generation capabilities throughout the Canadian end of the Columbia system, and attempts to provide a high level overview of how the system could perform under different scenarios.

It is a lot to consider. The report is very technical, and I found it hard to read and understand. I would probably understand it better if I had gone to one of the conferences, but as it turned out, the conference scheduled for Golden was canceled, and Castlegar is a nine hour drive away. I did sign up to view the conference via web, but the conference really wasn't designed for that. I only got to view the slides used by the presenters, sound quality was poor, and they were only able to stream one of each of the four break out sessions. The sessions on the Kinbasket Reservoir were not streamed.

But there are definitely some interesting bits of information in the report. There is a schematic of the Columbia and Kootenay Hydroelectric Systems that I hadn't seen before, and I think it is very helpful in understanding the flow of the systems (most maps don't show direction of water flow, and even CBT maps that show direction are difficult to conceptualize). Of course, Valemount is not marked in this schematic, but it's just meant to help you understand the layout of the system. You could draw Valemount on there yourself, as a little dot next to Golden, on the edge of the big circle that represents Kinbasket Reservoir.

The Columbia system is even more complicated on the US side of the border, and there were a couple very interesting facts I gleaned from the US Treaty Review section of the conference. On other river systems in the US, they have more than enough capacity to store run-off, but they don't have nearly enough storage on the Columbia to prevent flooding, which is a major concern for them. Kinbasket is the largest reservoir in the entire system, and therefore the Treaty is very important to the US. And yet the Canadian Entitlement (the money BC gets from the US) is based purely on Downstream Power Generation. (That is because Canada got a lump sum payment for the flood control benefits for the life of the Treaty at the beginning, and that money was used to build the Treaty dams.)

One might say “Hey, Canada should end the treaty, and negotiate a better entitlement, one based on flood control as well as power generation,” but it's not that simple. For one thing, whether the Treaty continues or not, Canada still needs to provide “Called Upon” flood control to the US. What that looks like is currently being negotiated, since Canada and the US have different views on what is required. I would imagine the reviews on both sided of the border are having some effects on that negotiation.

But also there is this: Kinbasket might be very important to the US for flood control, but it has also become very important for BC for power generation. Mica and Revelstoke Dams provide about half of BC Hydro's capacity, and whether the Treaty continues or not, changes at Mica/Kinbasket are the most costly (since they have to be balanced by changes elsewhere, either by water levels in other areas of the Columbia or by power generation elsewhere in the province). Regarding Kinbasket Reservoir, if the Treaty continues, “changes at Mica are the most costly and provide limited gains for interests around the reservoir.” If the Treaty is terminated, “more radical changes to operations could be developed that could provide greater benefits to interests around the reservoir but at an even higher cost.” So it looks like Treaty or not, the issues for Kinbasket (recreation, environmental, economic) are going to be about trade-offs.

And actually, the report points out a lot of trade-offs throughout the Columbia Basin, regardless of the Columbia River Treaty terminating or continuing; I hope the Province will continue this sort of engagement on these issues once the Treaty Review process is complete. I asked that question in the panel discussion session. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear the response.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Question

Transcribed from my iPhone voice memo, recorded as I walked the dog this evening... (and I must remember to do something about the volume if I am going to try that again...)

"So Owen asked the question tonight.  No, not the marriage question, shut the fuck up.  I am talking about the writing question.  We were sitting around after supper, he got a call from a friend asking for help, they were stuck.  I said "Hey, might be fun to go, something to do... might be interesting."  And he says "Hmmm... are you going as the friend? the reporter? the editor?" And this I don't know.  Honestly.  (and here I am laughing...) Because I don't know if I am any of those things.  I thought for a couple seconds, trying to process the question, um, and really the only answer I can come up with is: Is it going to help anybody if I tell the story? Because if it's not, then I won't tell the story.  That is just what popped into my head, but I think it's true, because if I don't see good coming from me telling something, then I don't think there is any point in telling it.  I hear this phrase a lot recently: "Be the change that you want to see." And I don't think that any change can come if you are pointing out the badness, the stuff that is wrong, just to point it out.  If you don't see a better way, then shut the fuck up.  OK, well, I don't really think that, because sometimes you might not see the right way until you talk about it first.  Hmmmm..."

Of course, the cynic might pop up right away and say "well, define good... if you get paid for telling a story, that might be good for you"  and of course, that is true.  But I don't think that journalists get paid much, and spilling my guts for money feels more like prostitution than working at McDonalds did.   (Not that there is anything wrong with that...)  Of course you have no reason to trust me, that could purely be me talking out of my ass, but if you get to know me, you'll recognize that money doesn't cut it for me.  There's more to life than that (although I often feel like a slave to the credit and the loans...).  Now if I get a laugh, that usually cuts it.  Even if it's just me that laughs.  (Another thought I had this evening, maybe a logo or a mantra or something: I don't do anything quickly except laugh!).  If I shock you a bit, but not to the point you turn away, that cuts it too (just ask my step-mom!).  If it helps you understand something, or at least think a bit more about it, maybe that's the best win.  And hey, if you have a come-back that makes me think, well, that might be the ultimate win.

Anyway, I have this sort of insatiable curiosity about things, not often backed by a lot of effort to research stuff, but I feel sometimes like I have this perpetual puzzled look on my face.  I want to know where you got that idea.  Why do you think that? Why do you make that assumption?  I know we have this tendency to group and clump things, compare like with like, essentially to create our own stereotypes.  That is our nature, and I don't see a problem with that.  Problems arise when we assume that someone or something is going to fall into all of our stereotypes, just because they fall into one.

OK, there was a good dose of my philosophical streak... I think I think too much (might be why I like to drink!) I hope this doesn't all sound like shit when I wake up in the morning... because I am about to make that decision again... ;)

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Third Problem... and My Lesson

When people know you write in a public forum, it changes things. I realize now I actually have a third problem with being a writer (in my first post, I wrote about two problems). It is really the fact that what you write becomes public. I know, that sounds silly, it's kind of the point of being a writer, to have what you write printed or published. But maybe what has been holding me back is that I know some people will disagree or dislike what I write, and maybe some people I care about will misunderstand, or be hurt or disapointed. That might not be so if I was to write a fantasy novel or something, but that is not the way I write.

For example if I write a story like my last post, “I'll Help You With Dinner”, I'm under no obligation to tell the truth, but it will likely be based on my experiences and my knowledge, and people I know might recognize themselves in these situations (whether I intend it or not). If I am true to the style of writing that interests me, I may be expressing feelings and situations that I've never expressed before, that I would never actually tell certain people in real life, but it might now be out there in the public for anyone to read if they choose. I may be digging up stuff that could potentially cause harm where I don't mean to, but it also means that people may change how they interact with me in the future, since they think that interaction might become part of my writing. That is a change in my life that I may not want.

But it might already be too late, that change might already have happened for me.

I've had a couple stories printed in one of our local newspaper over the last year or so, and the editor has asked on a couple occasions if I would be interested in writing a column, or some sort of regular submission. I couldn't commit, because I was busy with other things, and because I didn't know what interested me enough. But over the past 2 years I have become more interested in local government, politics, and the things going on around me, and when the editor found out I was not currently working, she asked if I might be interested in looking into a few things. It turned out I was already interested and finding out about a couple of the issues, so I gave her a few more stories, and she printed them. I don't think that makes me a reporter, but some people seem to think it does. I guess that might just be a philosophical argument. Anyway, within the last few months, I've been told that I am free to come to the village office and ask questions, just as any citizen is, and staff will help me, provide copies of bylaws, etc. Suddenly last week, right after the stories were published, I was told that anything going to the paper must come from the Mayor, since he is the spokesperson for the Village.

Now of course, theoretically, if I am asking as a citizen, I should have the same rights and access as every other citizen; and theoretically, any Village staff person would be able to give me the same information that the Mayor would. But if it's for the paper, it has to come from (or be otherwise authorized) by the Mayor. So here is my issue – I am asking questions as a citizen, because I want to know and understand. But once I know, can I say for sure it won't become part of something I write, something that the editor will be interested in printing? So really, if I am to be truthful, then anything I learn may well become part of a story for the paper, so I can't really ask as a citizen any more (even though I am asking as a citizen). And even if I decide to never submit anything to the paper again, I am somehow already labeled.

The most ironic part is how this all played out for me. What I was currently trying to find out is whether the Village was working on a policy regarding an aspect of budgeting. I was told it was a conscious decision for the council to not be too concerned about policies, since there are more important issues that need to be dealt with (which is certainly true). I was then told that the policy that says a reporter has to talk to the Mayor is clear. My translation: budget policy, not important; policy that says reporters have to talk to the Mayor, very important. Not sure who decides which one is important, nor how it is determined who is a reporter. I guess that means I will be reading the community charter, but I wanted to do that eventually anyway.

Of course, the mayor's point (that there is a lot of work to be done, and sometimes creating policies is not the best use of one's time) is certainly a good point. There are a lot of stupid, useless and silly policies out there. And maybe I am a little over-sensitive to the issue of bad policies, or poorly enforced ones, there have certainly been times I've gotten screwed over by them. But it has really been bugging me, and I know I'm sometimes a little slow making the connections, but I've recognized my lesson. If I am going to be a writer, I have to put it all out there. I can't be scared of who I might offend, I can't hold back my opinions. There will be people who don't like it, and consequently don't like me. But we can't live our lives worried about that, now can we?? ;) Anyway, I expect it will be a decision I have to make each time I decide to publish something.  And I am just about to make the decision for this story.

This is an article I wrote that was printed in November:

And these are two of my recent articles that were published: