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The Future of Rural Life on the Columbia River

Dipnet fishing at the Cul-De-Sac of Celilo Fal...
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While driving down in Eastern Washington State this weekend, I was stuck by the remoteness of many of the small towns and villages in this region, (both in BC and Washington). In some of these places you wonder how it is that people are able to scrape a living from the land or from the community. There are a lot of run-down buildings, some abandoned long ago, others still occupied, but clearly suffering from a lack of maintenance.

The States were hit much harder than Canada in the recent (and possibly ongoing) Great Recession, even so, the roads in this part of Washington are in good repair and the lumber mills still seem to be in operation. But, without an end in sight from the current economic woes, my thoughts start drifting to what the likely outcome will be for these places, the people who live there and those people who travel through them.

Generally, I think the larger communities will fair well – Colville with around 5,000 people seems likely to attract many from the outlying areas that may not have the money to gas up the car or feed the kids. Kettle Falls, only 8 miles away from Colville, with around 1,500 people presents potential opportunity for a resilient community with a small hydro plant, timber mill and close access to Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River.

Before the Columbia was dammed for hydro power, this part of the world had some of the best salmon and steelhead fishing, which could have provided a sustainable food source for many people up and down the Columbia River, now the fishing is on the lake, which is more recreational in nature and not concentrated like the spawning runs of the past.

There are some historical gems in this part of the world, sometimes the fact that these places have a history means that they may be able to survive, if the resource or industry they were built on still exist, but others will falter as tourism, consumerism and vacationing become harder to justify.

Is there a future for rural communities in an energy descent scenario as that described in books like The Long Descent or Plan C? What is the likely outcome for these communities as government subsidies for infrastructure, housing, health, policing, and education begin to crumble? Leave me your thoughts and comments below…

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.