Canada’s British Columbia Province this week released draft recommendations for a new Columbia River Treaty, saying the current treaty “does not account for the full range of benefits in the United States or the impacts in British Columbia,” and that salmon migration above Grand Coulee is not a treaty issue.
The draft recommendations say the “ongoing impacts to the Canadian Columbia Basin to meet Treaty requirements should be acknowledged and compensated for.
“All downstream U.S. benefits, such as flood risk management, hydropower, ecosystems, water supply, recreation, navigation and any other relevant benefits, including associated risk reduction arising from coordinated operations compared to alternatives available to each country, should be accounted for and such value created should be shared equitably between the two countries.”
While the Canadians are suggesting higher compensation levels are warranted to take into account “a full range of benefits” to the U.S., at this stage in the process the United States has a different point of view.
On Sept. 20, the “U.S. Entity” released its draft recommendations, and in a cover letter said, “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is widespread concern that the method included in the Treaty for calculating Canada’s share of its power benefits is outdated and no longer equitable, resulting in excessive costs to regional ratepayers.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.
(For a more complete look at the U.S. draft recommendations, go to CBB, Sept. 27, 2013, “U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428444.aspx”)
Some have suggested restoration of salmon runs above Grand Coulee Dam should be part of the treaty negotiations. But the Canadian draft recommendations say, “Salmon migration into the Columbia River in Canada was eliminated by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 (26 years prior to Treaty ratification), and as such is not a Treaty issue. British Columbia’s perspective is that restoration of fish passage and habitat, if feasible, should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure.”
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) 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 following draft recommendation and principles “reflect the outcomes of the British Columbia Treaty Review process to date:”
-- The primary objective of the Treaty should be to maximize benefits to both countries through the coordination of planning and operations.
-- The ongoing impacts to the Canadian Columbia Basin to meet Treaty requirements should be acknowledged and compensated for. The level of benefits to the Province, which is currently primarily in the form of the Canadian Entitlement, does not account for the full range of benefits in the United States or the impacts in British Columbia.
-- All downstream U.S. benefits, such as flood risk management, hydropower, ecosystems, water supply, recreation, navigation and any other relevant benefits, including associated risk reduction arising from coordinated operations compared to alternatives available to each country, should be accounted for and such value created should be shared equitably between the two countries.
-- Treaty provisions post-2024 should be fixed for a sufficient duration to provide planning and operational certainty while allowing for adaptive mechanisms to address significant changes to key components and interests.
-- Implementation of post-2024 flood control obligations will be consistent with the Treaty requirements that a Called Upon Flood Control request can only be made when forecasts of potential floods indicate there is a reasonable risk of exceeding 600,000 cubic feet per second at The Dalles, and the United States must make effective use of all related storage in the United States before seeking additional help from British Columbia.
-- To supplement Called Upon Flood Control, a coordinated flood risk management approach should maximize the benefits and mitigate impacts and risks to multiple U.S. interests as compared to Called Upon Flood Control regime post 2024 which includes effective use of U.S. reservoirs.
-- Ecosystem values are currently, and will continue to be, an important consideration in the planning and implementation of the Treaty.
-- The Province will explore ecosystem based improvements recognizing that there are a number of available mechanisms inside and outside the Treaty.
-- Operating conditions of Canadian Columbia basin dams and reservoirs are subject to provincial and federal licensing including water Use Plans where they exist, and consideration of aboriginal rights under the Canadian constitution.
-- The Province will seek improved coordination on Libby Dam and Koocanusa Reservoir operations.
-- Salmon migration into the Columbia River in Canada was eliminated by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 (26 years prior to Treaty ratification), and as such is not a Treaty issue. British Columbia’s perspective is that restoration of fish passage and habitat, if feasible, should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure.
-- Adaptation to climate change should be incorporated in Treaty planning and implementation.
-- The Canadian Entities (Province of British Columbia and BC Hydro) will continue to engage First Nations and communities throughout any negotiation process.
-- Canadian Columbia Basin issues not related to the Treaty will be addressed through other government programs and initiatives.