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U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty
Posted on Friday, September 27, 2013 (PST)

The “U.S. Entity” on Sept. 20 released for public review and comment its draft Regional Recommendation for public review and comment on how the Northwest’s system of dams in the United States and Canada might be operated from 2024 and beyond for power generation, flood control as well as for fish benefit and other uses.

The Columbia River Treaty now under review in Canada and the United States was created primarily to provide reduced flood risk and support hydropower generation in a river system that springs from British Columbia and flows down through Washington and Oregon to the Pacific Ocean. Major tributaries supply water from Montana and Idaho.

The Columbia River Treaty, signed in 1964, calls for two "entities" -- a U.S. Entity and a Canadian Entity -- to implement, and amend, the treaty. The U.S. Entity, created by the president, consists of the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (chair) and the Northwestern Division Engineer (member) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Canadian Entity, appointed by the Canadian Federal Cabinet, is the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (B.C. Hydro).

Four storage reservoirs on the Columbia River system remain the most obvious product of the treaty. Together, the three dams built in Canada (Duncan, Mica and Keenleyside — also known as Arrow in the U.S.) doubled the amount of water that could be stored, adding 15.5 million acre-feet of capacity. And the construction of Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana created another large storage reservoir, Lake Koocanusa.

The treaty called for the United States to pre-pay Canada, a total of $64 million, as each Canadian treaty dam was put into operation. This payment covered implementation of annual flood control plans for the first 60 years of the Treaty, through September 2024.

The treaty specified that power generation benefits were to be shared equally by the two countries, but since the energy was not immediately needed to serve its demand, Canada sold the first 30 years of the Canadian Entitlement to a U.S. consortium of utilities for $254 million in 1964. The value of the Canadian Entitlement, combined with pre-payment for flood risk management, helped finance Duncan, Keenleyside and Mica dams.

Now that the 30-year contracts have expired, the United States delivers the Canadian Entitlement energy to BC Hydro over Bonneville Power Administration transmission lines. BPA estimates that this energy entitlement is worth between $250 million and $350 million a year, according to a U.S. Entity fact sheet.

The U.S. Entity is seeking broad regional support from sovereigns, regional stakeholders, and the general public before the recommendation is finalized and presented to the U.S. Department of State in December 2013. The end result would be a U.S. recommendation on whether or not the terms of the treaty should be continued and/or changed.

The U.S. Entity is seeking comments and feedback on the document during the public comment period, which is scheduled through Friday, Oct. 25. Comments on the Draft Regional Recommendation can be made at:

A cover letter announcing release of the draft says that:

“While the region acknowledges substantial benefits have flowed from the Treaty, there is also a strong desire to incorporate ecosystem-based functions into the Treaty and to recognize evolving interests in other water management issues in the Columbia River basin.

“There is growing interest in a Treaty that is more adaptive, flexible, and resilient in order to successfully meet the challenges presented by increased demand for water and the uncertainty of climate change impacts on Columbia River flow volume, timing, and variability in the next several decades.

“There is widespread concern that the method included in the Treaty for calculating Canada’s share of its power benefits is outdated and no longer equitable, resulting in excessive costs to regional ratepayers. Finally, there is broad interest in reaching agreement with Canada on how we will conduct coordinated flood risk management operations post-2024 under the terms of the Treaty.

“The Draft Regional Recommendation attempts to recognize and balance all of these viewpoints and interests. The modernized Treaty that is envisioned in this Draft Regional Recommendation will simultaneously:

-- better address the region’s need for a reliable and economically sustainable hydropower system;

-- continue to provide a similar level of flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;

-- include ecosystem-based function as a third primary purpose of the Treaty, to ensure a more comprehensive approach throughout the Columbia Basin watershed; and

-- create the flexibility within the Treaty that is necessary to respond to climate change, changing water supply needs, and other future potential changes in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as navigation.

“Ecosystem considerations such as those for enhanced fish and wildlife protection are the subject of significant conversation today even as federal responsibilities have expanded to include the increased use of basin water to aid fish migration up and down the rivers,” the fact sheet says.

“Many dams and reservoirs in the Columbia River Basin operate together under the Columbia River Treaty to manage flood risks and generate hydropower to benefit the Pacific Northwest. These river operations also support fish and wildlife, recreation, water supply and navigation.”

Reactions to the draft’s release show that a split in public opinion exists.

“The modernization of the Columbia River Treaty is in the best interest of our region, the United States, and the Columbia Basin citizens who rely on this river,” according to a statement released by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The draft recommendation released today by the U.S Entity adds the ecosystem as a primary driver, co-equal to hydropower and flood control, a feature that will make the treaty a model of international water management.

“The sovereigns, stakeholders, and other interested parties must work together as a region to reach a consensus that we can all support and be proud of. Leaving the Columbia River Treaty unchanged forces us all to lose, and lose significantly,” according to CRITFC. “Upper basin residents could be forced to unfairly bear a greater burden through greater demands on their reservoirs. Diminished water quality and quantity issues will frustrate the Columbia Basin’s on-going salmon restoration efforts, and the region will be unprepared to address climate change. We cannot allow any of these to happen.

The U.S. Entity, in collaboration with numerous parties, has been reviewing the Columbia River Treaty to advise the U.S. Department of State on the treaty’s future after 2024.

“The Columbia Basin Tribes remain dedicated to the inclusion of ecosystem-based function in a modernized treaty and are committed to working with the other sovereigns, stakeholders, and interested parties to develop a path forward that we can all support. For the past 50 years, the region has tried to optimize hydropower and flood control without consideration of the ecosystem. That has failed. The time to redefine the future of the Columbia River is now,” according to Paul Lumley, CRITFC executive director. Lumley is a citizen of the Yakama Nation and a member of the Columbia River Treaty - Sovereign Review Team.

Portland-based CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies offour Columbia River Basin's treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, greeted the draft recommendation with a statement of concern regarding potential modifications to the Columbia River Treaty.

Hastings met with representatives of the U.S. Entity Sept. 20 to discuss the latest draft recommendation and to express his concerns directly.

“The U.S. Entity’s latest draft recommendation continues to raise contentious ecosystem concerns that only serve to distract from the essential task of working with Canada on the core issues under the Treaty – the need to rebalance power benefits and to address long-term flood control needs. As this process unfolds, I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the final U.S. position on this matter is focused appropriately,” said Hastings.

(See, CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Utilities Group Expresses Concern With Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendations, Process, Scope” and CBB, Aug. 16, 2013, “Environmentalists Say Columbia River Treaty Needs To Expand To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Functions”’

Public roundtable discussions regarding the draft regional recommendation are scheduled to:

-- Understand this draft’s evolution and changes since the earlier working draft;

-- Discuss what change could mean to the region, and

-- Learn about the next steps in the Treaty Review process.

The Corps and Bonneville will discuss these topics and answer questions during the informal roundtable meetings. The sessions will feature open discussions, with no scheduled presentations.

For more information and background on Treaty Review, please visit for Columbia River Treaty Review background and overview fact sheets.

The U.S. Entity welcomes comments and suggestions on the Draft Regional Recommendation by Oct. 25. These comments and suggestions will be considered for incorporation into the final recommendation.

For information on the Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review, visit

Meetings are scheduled in:

Spokane, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1-3 p.m.,

Spokane Public Library, Room 1A,

906 W. Main Ave.,


Boise, Thursday, Oct. 3, 1-3 p.m.,

Boise Public Library, Marion Bigham Room,

715 S Capitol Blvd.,

Missoula, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9,

Helena College the University of Montana

1115 N. Roberts St.,

Olympia, 1-3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 15

The Olympia Center,

222 Columbia St. NW,

See front desk for free parking pass

Portland, 2:30-5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16,

BPA Rates Hearing Room,

1201 N.E. Lloyd Blvd., 2nd floor,

or participate by Webinar

(watch the website for details)

Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review

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