Negotiations to begin next week on modernizing Columbia River Treaty

Negotiations between the U.S. and Canada to modernize the Columbia River Treaty will kick off May 29 in Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Department of State.

This 1961 treaty has been called “a model of transboundary natural resource cooperation.” It provided a framework for the U.S. and Canada to coordinate water storage, flood control and hydroelectric power generation in the Columbia River Basin.

The Columbia River is the fourth largest river in North America as measured by average annual flow and generates more power than any other river in North America. Its headwaters originate in British Columbia, Canada, but only about 15% of the square mileage of the river basin is located in Canada. Canadian waters, however, account for about 38% of the average annual volume and up to 50% of the peak flood waters that flow by The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

Four dams were constructed under this treaty, three in Canada and one in the U.S. Together, these dams more than doubled the storage capacity of the Columbia River Basin.

In the treaty, for flood control, Canada was to be paid 50% of estimated value of U.S. flood damages prevented. Instead of receiving an annual payment, Canada elected to receive lump sum payments totaling $64.4 million. This payment was for flood control benefits through September 2024.

In exchange for providing and operating the treaty storage projects for power, Canada received an entitlement to half of the estimated downstream power benefits generated in the U.S. Canada initially sold it share of this additional power for $254 million to a consortium of U.S. utilities for a period of 30 years. This agreement expired in 2003 and the Canadian Entitlement power is now delivered on a daily schedule to the province of BC for Canada’s use or resale.

Either Canada or the U.S. can terminate most of the provisions of the treat any time on or after Sept. 16, 2024, with a minimum 10 years’ written advance notice. Unless the treaty is terminated, most of the provisions continue indefinitely. However, the terms for flood control will change automatically in 2024.

The Department of State says key objectives for the U.S. during the treaty renegotiation include:

  • Continued, careful management of flood risk
  • Ensuring a reliable and economical power supply
  • Better addressing ecosystem concerns

U.S. objectives are guided by a consensus document published in 2013 – U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024 – after years of consultation among the Pacific Northwest’s tribes, states, stakeholders, public and federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of State will lead the U.S. negotiating team, which will include the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division (which together comprise the “U.S. Entity” that implements the treaty in the U.S.), Department of the Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Canadian Entity administering the treaty is the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro).

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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