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British Columbia Announces Decision To Continue Columbia River Treaty While Seeking ‘Improvements’
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2014 (PST)

British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review Bill Bennett announced last week that the Canadian government has decided that it wants continue the long-running Columbia River Treaty with the United States while seeking “improvements” within pact’s existing framework.


The decision includes 14 principles that will guide British Columbia in any discussions on the future of the treaty between Canada and the United States.


One of the key principles -- and the primary goal of the treaty from the Canadian province's perspective -- is to create and equitably share benefits from trans-boundary co-ordination with the United States, recognizing that British Columbia is impacted by treaty operations.


"We believe continuing the Columbia River Treaty while exploring how improvements could benefit both countries is the best strategy moving forward for B.C., Canada and the United States,” Bennett said. “The consultations that have included various levels of government, stakeholder groups, First Nations and the public have helped ensure the future of the treaty will be shaped by the people it impacts."


"Local governments have successfully collaborated with the province to ensure the opinions and voices of basin residents are heard in decisions related to the future of the Columbia River Treaty in an extensive review process over the last two years,” according to Debra Kozak, chair of British Columbia’s Columbia River Treaty Local Governments' Committee. “We congratulate the province on reaching a decision regarding the future of the CRT and look forward to reviewing the decision as this is an essential next step in seeking improvements to the treaty."


The Columbia River Treaty signed in 1961 with implementation beginning in 1964, aimed primarily to reduce flood risk posed by the river and its tributaries and support hydropower generation. The Columbia River’s headwaters are high in the Canadian Rockies. It then flows down through southern British Columbia and the state of Washington before turning west along the Oregon-Washington border to the Pacific Ocean.


“Four storage reservoirs on the Columbia River system remain the most obvious result of the Treaty,” according to the “Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review” web page sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration. “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.


“Libby Dam in Montana created another large storage reservoir, Lake Koocanusa. The Treaty called for the U.S. 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.”


While the treaty has no specified end date, it contains provisions that will change its implementation in 2024. Either Canada or the United States may unilaterally terminate most provisions of the treaty in 2024, with a minimum of 10 years’ advance notice, hence the focus on 2014 and 2024.


British Columbia's final decision concludes that both countries must recognize that for every cost associated with the treaty, there are important benefits that should be shared by both parties. Cross-border co-ordination supports the flood control and power generation needs of the United States, as well as the effective management of their environmental requirements, agriculture water supply and river navigation.


The decision also recognizes that salmon migration further up the Columbia River was blocked with the construction of central Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam, 26 years prior to treaty ratification and concludes that the restoration of fish passage and habitat should be the responsibility of each country, according to a press release issued by B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines.


Other principles in the decision include considerations around flood control, hydropower generation, ecosystems and climate change, while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to evolving economic, social and environmental circumstances in each country, the press release says. The B.C. government has engaged in discussions with federal entities on how both governments will work together in anticipation of any future potential negotiations with the United States.


The Columbia River Treaty Review conducted by the Canadians included economic, environmental, social, hydrological and legal analyses as well as extensive public and First Nations consultation leading to a decision on whether to continue, amend or terminate the Columbia River Treaty with the United States.


The U.S. Entity (BPA and the Corps) made its final recommendations to the U.S. federal government in December, which are currently being reviewed by the U.S. State Department. The United States will co-ordinate a federal interagency review under the general direction of the National Security Council on behalf of the president of the United States.


The Columbia River Treaty is known throughout the world as one of the most successful models of a trans-boundary water management, the Ministry of Energy and Mines press release says. This water management agreement has spurred ongoing discussions around the need for cross-border collaboration to address flooding concerns and growing demands for energy.


The U.S. Entity is amidst a similar process prior to potential negotiations.


“The regional recommendation was developed by the U.S. Entity in collaboration and consultation with the region’s sovereign states, federally recognized tribes, and a variety of stakeholders through an extensive, multi-year process known as the Columbia River Treaty Review (Treaty Review),” according to a Dec. 13 cover letter for the U.S. Entity’s regional recommendations.


“The U.S. Entity submits that the Pacific Northwest region broadly supports modernization of the Treaty to bring about better and more balanced benefits, and believes this would be in the best interest of the region and the United States,” according to the letter signed by Elliot E. Mainzer, U.S. Entity chair. Mainzer was at the time acting BPA administrator. He had since been selected to serve as head of the power marketing agency.


“The stated goal of the regional recommendation is for both countries to develop a modernized Treaty framework that reflects the actual value of coordinated power operations with Canada, maintains an acceptable level of flood risk and supports a resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin,” the Dec. 13 letter says. “It is important to achieve a modernized framework for the Treaty that balances power production, flood risk management, and ecosystem-based function as the primary purposes addressed in the Treaty, while also meeting other congressionally authorized purposes of the U.S. projects, such as irrigation and navigation.” 


To view B.C.'s final decision visit:


The U.S. Entity’s web page can be found at:


Canada’s perspective is detailed in “U.S. Benefits from the Columbia River Treaty – Past, Present and Future: A Province of British Columbia Perspective”


Also see:


-- CBB, Feb. 28, 2014 “15 Basin Tribes, Canadian First Nations Issue Report On Restoring Upper Columbia Salmon Passage”


-- CBB, Nov. 27, 2013, “Columbia River Treaty Prompts Discussion Of Restoring Salmon Passage To Canadian Headwaters”


-- CBB, Nov. 1, 2013, “Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Will Impact Libby Dam Operations, Reservoir Drafting/Refill”


-- CBB, Oct. 18, 2013, “B.C. Releases Draft Columbia River Treaty Recommendations, Wants Full Accounting Of U.S. Benefits”


-- CBB, Sept. 27, 2013, “U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty”


-- CBB, Aug. 16, 2013, “Environmentalists Say Columbia River Treaty Needs To Expand To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Functions”’


-- CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Utilities Group Expresses Concern With Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendations, Process, Scope”


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