The U.S. State Department, in possible future negotiations
with Canada over the Columbia River Treaty, has decided “to include flood risk
mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in
the draft U.S. negotiating position,” according to a recent letter from the
state department to the Northwest congressional delegation.
“We assure you that the future of the Treaty is a priority,
and internal deliberations are gaining momentum,” says the state department in
“We hope to approach Canada soon to begin discussions on
modernization of the Treaty.”
(See CBB, April 17, 2015, “NW Congressional Delegation Urges
Obama To Initiate Negotiations On Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433725.aspx)
Northwest conservation groups praised the state department
for including “ecosystem function” in the nation’s negotiation position as it
prepares to negotiate the Columbia River Treaty with Canada.
At issue in the region is whether or not a revised or
“modernized” treaty should take into account ecosystem function considerations,
such as salmon restoration. The original treaty in place today is focused on
hydropower generation and flood control considerations.
“There is solid, broad-based support among Northwest states,
tribes, businesses and citizens to promptly begin formal talks with Canada to
modernize the half-century-old Columbia River Treaty for tomorrow’s Northwest,”
said Pat Ford, representing Save Our Wild
Salmon. “Conservationists and fishermen
applaud the State Department for taking this needed step.”
Throughout the process of developing U.S. recommendations
for a new treaty, utility interests have expressed concern that expanding the
scope of the treaty to include ecosystem-based functions is unwise,
particularly because draft negotiating positions do not recognize billions of
dollars that have been spent over decades to mitigate damages caused by
construction of federal hydropower dams.
Utility interests say that there are multiple mitigation
plans already in place because of laws such as the Endangered Species Act.
(See CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Utilities Group Expresses Concern
With Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendations, Process, Scope” http://www.cbbulletin.com/427854.aspx)
In December, 2013, the “U.S. Entity” – comprised of top
officials of the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers officials – sent a final regional recommendation concerning the
future of the Columbia River Treaty to the state department.
The recommendation to strike up negotiations with Canada
regarding a renewal of the treaty sets out numerous goals for such discussions,
such as re-evaluation what monetary “entitlement” should be sent north of the
border to pay for benefits received south of the border, and whether ecosystem
considerations, such as salmon restoration needs, should be part of any new
The treaty between the two countries was signed in 1961,
with implementation beginning in 1964. The treaty primarily aimed at reducing
flood risk downstream, through the construction of water storage facilities in
Canada and northwest Montana, and supporting hydropower generation.
Four storage reservoirs on the Columbia River system were
built as a result of the treaty -- Duncan, Mica and Keenleyside (also known as
Arrow) in British Columbia and Libby in northwest Montana. They doubled the
amount of water that could be stored, adding 15.5 million acre-feet of
capacity. 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.
Canada and the U.S. agreed that the increased annual power
generation benefits created by the treaty at the downstream U.S. dams were to
be shared equally.
“This benefit is determined using theoretical calculations
agreed to by the original treaty authors, and the Canadian share of the power
generation, known as the “Canadian Entitlement,” is delivered from the United
States to Canada. Because the power 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,” according to background information
posted on the U.S. Entities’ web site.
“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 U.S. 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.”
The Department of State has been using the final “U.S.
Entity” recommendation in a federal policy review process to determine whether
to proceed with negotiations regarding changes to the 50-year-old treaty, or to
terminate the agreement with Canada.
The state department letter to the Northwest delegation says the Obama Administration
has reviewed the entity’s final recommendations and “we agree the
Recommendation is an extremely useful document. To proceed with negotiations
with Canada on issues as complex and multifaceted as those involved in managing
the Columbia River and its tributaries, we are working to ensure that our
negotiating position is one that maximizes benefits to the United States. We
have met with stakeholder constituents from the region throughout the process,
and we will continue to do so in the future.”
The U.S. Entity “Regional Recommendation for the Future of
the Columbia River Treaty After 2024” was developed by the U.S. Entity in
collaboration and consultation with the region’s four states, federally
recognized tribes and a variety of stakeholders through an extensive, multiyear
process known as the Columbia River Treaty Review.
The final recommendation submits that the Pacific Northwest
and the nation would benefit from “modernization” of the treaty post-2024. It
begins by identifying regional goals for the future of the Treaty post-2024. It
includes general principles underlying this recommendation, followed by more
specific recommendations related to several Treaty elements. It also identifies
matters related to possible post-2024 Treaty implementation for consideration
through domestic processes.
The final U.S. Entity recommendation supports a modernized
treaty that would simultaneously:
-- better address the region’s interest in a reliable and
economically sustainable hydropower system and reflect a more reasonable
assessment of the value of coordinated power operations with Canada;
-- continue to provide a similar level of flood risk
management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;
-- include ecosystem-based function as one of the primary
purposes of the treaty; and
-- create flexibility within the treaty to respond to
climate change, changing water supply needs and other potential future changes
in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as
navigation and irrigation.
The U.S. Entity recommendations note that, as a result of a
three-year process involving discussions with stakeholders, that there is an
“increasing awareness in the region that an imbalance has developed in the
equitable sharing of the downstream power benefits resulting from the treaty.
“When the Treaty was ratified, the United States and Canada
structured Canada’s share of these benefits as one-half of the downstream power
benefits with the Canadian Treaty projects as compared to without those
projects. An equitable sharing of these benefits should instead be based on the
more realistic measure of the power value of coordinated operations as compared
to non-coordinated operations,” the recommendations say.
“Based on the present formula developed in the 1960s, the
estimated value of the Canadian share of the downstream benefits in 2024 is
significantly greater than anticipated, and far exceeds the value of
coordinated power operations under the Treaty.”
Under the original treaty, either Canada or the United
States may unilaterally terminate most provisions of the treaty as early as
September 2024, with a minimum of 10 years’ notice; hence the focus on 2014 and
After the final recommendation was delivered to the state
department, the U.S. government was charged with formally taking up the
question of the Columbia River Treaty.
That process will be a federal, interagency review under the
general direction of the National Security Council on behalf of the president.
The Department of State has been designated as the agency to coordinate and
oversee this process on behalf of the National Security Council.
In the letter to Northwest delegation, the state department said, “The
Administration recognizes the significant economic and cultural role the
Columbia River plays in the lives of your constituents in the Pacific
Northwest, including numerous communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and
Montana. We assure you that the future of the Treaty is a priority, and
internal deliberations are gaining momentum.”
In 2013, Canada’s British Columbia Province 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.
For more information on the Canadian point of view, see CBB,
Oct. 18, 2013, “B.C. Releases Draft Columbia River Treaty Recommendations,
Wants Full Accounting Of U.S. Benefits” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428719.aspx
To read the final recommendation, and for more information
on the Columbia River Treaty Review, go to www.crt2014-2024review.gov
For background on the Columbia River Treaty see:
-- CBB, Sept. 19, 2014, “Columbia River Treaty Reaches Age
50 This Week; British Columbia, U.S. Considering Future Options” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432128.aspx
-- CBB, March 21, 2014, “British Columbia Announces Decision
To Continue Columbia River Treaty While Seeking ‘Improvements’” http://www.cbbulletin.com/430094.aspx
-- CBB, Feb. 28, 2014 “15 Basin Tribes, Canadian First
Nations Issue Report On Restoring Upper Columbia Salmon Passage” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429847.aspx
-- CBB, Dec. 20, 2013, “Final Recommendations For Revising
Columbia River Treaty With Canada Sent To State Department” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429315.aspx
-- CBB, Nov. 27, 2013, “Columbia River Treaty Prompts
Discussion Of Restoring Salmon Passage To Canadian Headwaters” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429144.aspx
-- CBB, Nov. 1, 2013, “Columbia River Treaty Negotiations
Will Impact Libby Dam Operations, Reservoir Drafting/Refill” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428897.aspx
-- CBB, Sept. 27, 2013, “U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations
For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428444.aspx
-- CBB, Aug. 16, 2013, “Environmentalists Say Columbia River
Treaty Needs To Expand To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Functions”’ http://www.cbbulletin.com/427918.aspx
-- CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Utilities Group Expresses Concern
With Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendations, Process, Scope” http://www.cbbulletin.com/427854.aspx