A report made public Thursday begins to weigh how dam operations in the United States aimed at boosting salmon survival might be affected by future changes to, or the elimination of, the Columbia River Treaty.
Almost certain is a shifting of more flood control responsibilities to the United States, which means dam operators south of the border will likely have less flexibility in how they regulate the water that comes down through the system.
The Columbia River Treaty is an international agreement between Canada and the United States that called for the cooperative development of water resources regulation in the upper Columbia River Basin. It was signed in 1961 and implemented in 1964.
A main component of the treaty called for Canada to develop reservoirs in the higher reaches of the Columbia Basin sufficient to provide 15.5 million acre-feet of water storage to help boost flood control capabilities and provide a controllable source to fuel hydro production in both countries. It has resulted in doubled water storage capacity on the Columbia system with construction of three large storage projects (Duncan, Keenleyside and Mica) in Canada and Libby Dam in the United States.
Under the terms of the treaty, requirements for flood control provided by the treaty projects will change in 2024 from the current pre-determined operation plan to a "called upon" provision wherein the United States may request flood control assistance from Canadian projects. The hitch is that flood control help can only be called upon if needs cannot be met by all related flood control facilities in the United States.
If the United States uses the called upon option, it must then pay Canada for its operating expenses and economic losses due to flood control operation.
"As a result, the approach and modeling of 'effective use' of U.S. flood control space in the Phase 1 studies resulted in U.S. reservoirs being drawn down more frequently and deeper than current conditions, as well as a reduction in the ability to refill," according to a Phase I Report fact sheet developed by the “U.S. Entity.”
The U.S. Entity -- the Bonneville Power Administration administrator and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Northwest Division commander/division engineer -- have targeted 2013 as the year by which it wants to fully understand the impacts if the treaty continues, is modified or terminated.
Phase 1, the initial modeling and analysis phase, is a joint effort between the U.S. and Canadian Entities aimed at evaluating options and implications. The Phase I report’s purpose is to provide fundamental information about post-2024 conditions both with and without the current treaty and only from the limited perspective of power and flood control. The Phase I report was released to the public in July.
The treaty has no specified termination date, but either the United States or Canada is able to terminate most of the provisions of the treaty anytime on or after Sept. 16, 2024, with a minimum of 10 years' written notice -- by September 2014. The Phase I Report's findings represent the first of several technical studies judged necessary to understand the effect of flood control changes scheduled to begin in 2024, as well as the option of terminating the treaty.
The “United States Entity Supplemental Report” released by the Corps and BPA Thursday is a “companion” report to the Phase I report. Prepared by the U.S. Entity, its purpose is to provide the result of studies intended to evaluate the effect on Federal Columbia River Power System “biological opinion” and other fish operations under the same three changed-treaty scenarios analyzed for the Phase I report. Those three scenarios include a continuation of the treaty post-2024 though with called upon flood control, a termination of the treaty, and a continuation of the treaty with the pre-2024 flood control operating plan.
“These are important drivers of U.S. reservoir operations and including them in discussions of post-2024 Treaty scenarios represents a more realistic picture of the operation of U.S. projects,” according to the supplemental report’s executive summary. “The information in the Supplemental Report will inform regional discussions to help develop additional studies for looking at potential post-2024 Treaty scenarios.”
Discussions with tribes, states and others on how the United States should approach treaty negotiations with Canada have started and will continue.
“… it is important to understand that there are significant limitations on the scope and depth of the additional information that the Supplemental studies provide, given that the U.S. Entity is only at the beginning of this process,” the supplemental report says. “For example, even with the extensive effort that went into applying fish operations to the Phase 1 studies, it is clear that the resulting additional information included in this Supplemental Report only provided a glimpse of how the Phase 1 results were impacted when current fish operations were applied.
“It is recognized that additional collaborative work within the region will need to be done to understand the implications of the post-2024 Treaty scenarios on fish and fish operations.”
The supplemental study results focus on impacts to flood control, U.S. reservoir levels, U.S. hydro power generation and fish objectives.
As an example, the supplemental report’s summarizes the U.S. reservoir level effects as follows:
-- On average, the addition of fish operations to the Phase 1 scenarios resulted in higher reservoir levels during the January through April period due to the BiOp criteria to operate U.S. projects to their upper flood control rule curves by mid-April.
-- Comparing across all supplemental studies, there were significant differences in average elevation which were primarily driven by the flood control maximum flow objective at The Dalles, not by continuing or terminating the treaty. The 450 kcfs studies generally produced deeper drafts during the January through April period, on a 70-year average basis, than the 600 kcfs studies because the projects drafted deeper for flood control more often in the 450 kcfs studies than the 600 kcfs studies
For the studies, the maximum flood control flow objective is the level to which significant flood damages are assumed to begin to occur in the lower Columbia and it also defines at what level the U.S. may call upon storage in Canada under post-2024 conditions. Given the uncertainty of future flood control needs, the Phase 1 and Supplemental studies looked at two potential scenarios of U.S. flood control
Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review, “United States Entity United States Entity Supplemental Report” can be found at:
For additional information and the results of the joint Phase 1 studies, go to:
At the conclusion of the review process, the U.S. Entity will advise the president, who will be assisted in foreign relations and international negotiations regarding the treaty by the Department of State, subject in certain cases to the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.