House Natural Resources Committee holds field hearing on Columbia River Treaty

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held a full committee oversight field hearing yesterday regarding the importance of power and flood control in future Columbia River Treaty negotiations.

The meeting, called “The Future of the US-Canada Columbia River Treaty — Building on 60 years of Coordinated Power Generation and Flood Control“, included testimony from the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Canadian entities, public utility districts, rural electric cooperatives, and irrigation, navigation, tribes and other stakeholders.

The Columbia River Treaty was put into place in 1964 and has provided the framework for coordinated hydroelectric power generation and flood control on the 1,200-mile-long Columbia River system.

The Columbia River Treaty doesn’t have an expiration date, but either the U.S. or Canada could cancel most of its provisions after September 2024 with a minimum 10-year notice, meaning treaty talks can begin in 2014.

Already, the U.S. has released draft recommendations regarding potential modifications to the treaty. A final draft will be sent to the State Department soon.

“The Columbia River Treaty is an incredibly complex issue that has — and will continue to have — a profound impact on Pacific Northwest communities, businesses and environment,” said Ranking Member Peter Defazio, D-Ore. “The future of the treaty has implications for power generation, navigation, irrigation, recreation, fish, cultural and tribal resources to name a few.”

Key in this week’s talks was also a need to rebalance the Canadian entitlement as it “exceeds the actual power benefit received,” according to a release from the committee.

Measures to help protect endangered salmon and other wildlife are also included, though Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said he hopes they don’t overshadow other issues.

“While modest improvements have been witness in the U.S. Entity’s draft recommendations, I remain concerned that ‘ecosystem issues’ continue to be emphasized over the core treaty functions that plainly will need to be addressed in bilateral discussions with Canada,” said Hastings. “It is my hope and expectation that the final recommendation from the U.S. Entity will make clear to the State Department that the priorities we need to address are the entitlement and flood control.”

Witness testimony can be found on the House Committee’s website here.

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