In a recent call with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is ready to start
talks with Canada on the Columbia River Treaty.
The call came just hours after the State Department
finalized “Circular 175,” authorizing talks with Canada to modernize the
treaty, Cantwell said.
Cantwell has for years been urging the State Department to
begin the negotiation process.
A press release from Cantwell’s office said updating the
Columbia River Treaty will present “exciting new economic opportunities for
Washington State, as well as providing a new focus on protecting the river’s
ecosystem and addressing flood control.”
The U.S. and Canada will work together, the press release
said, “to find win-win solutions to manage the river, looking to cooperate on
critical clean energy solutions such as smart grids with intermittent power,
grid-scale storage, and clean infrastructure.”
The treaty has not been updated since it was first ratified
The government of Canada, the Cantwell press release said, had
refused to begin talks until the U.S. finalized its negotiating parameters,
which are laid out in a document called a Circular 175.
"The United States is officially ready to move forward
on negotiating a new Columbia River Treaty?," said Cantwell after hearing
the news from Kerry. "A new agreement is critical to so many aspects of
our Northwest economy. I congratulate the administration on completing the
Circular 175 negotiating terms and hope that now the Canadian Government will
come to the table and start detailing what a new agreement will look
The Circular 175 is based on regional recommendations
developed by stakeholders in the Columbia River Basin. The recommendations
balance ecosystem functions and community concerns including hydropower
generation and flood control.
Cantwell has been on the forefront in the charge to
modernize the treaty. Most recently, the senator led 21 of her Senate and House
colleagues in a letter https://www.cantwell.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2016.08.11%20to%20Dept%20of%20State%20(Kerry),%20Columbia%20RIver%20Treaty.pdf to Kerry pressing his agency to hasten its
finalization of the Circular 175.
In March of this year, she spoke to Canadian Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau about the need to move forward with negotiations. The senator
continued her push in June, meeting with Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton
to discuss progress on the Canadian side. Last year, Cantwell sent a letter to
President Obama with 25 other members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional
delegation, urging the Administration to move forward with a strategy for
addressing the treaty. In 2014, Cantwell joined with 25 of her colleagues to
press for action on moving the process forward.
In 2015, the State Department, in possible future
negotiations with Canada over the treaty, decided to include flood risk
mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in
the draft U.S. negotiating position.
Northwest conservation groups praised the state department
for including “ecosystem function” in the nation’s negotiation position.
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.
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.
The trans-boundary water management agreement was signed in
1961 and ratified in 1964.
The treaty has no specified expiration date. Either Canada
or the United States can unilaterally terminate the Columbia River Treaty any
time after Sept. 16, 2024, provided written notice is filed at least 10 years
This suggests a “notice date” of Sept 16, 2014, but notice
could have been done earlier and can be done later.
Both British Columbia and the United States are considering
options to determine whether or not to give notice. Regardless, Assured Annual
Flood Control expires automatically in 2024 and converts in 2024 to a Called
Upon operation of Canadian storage space as may be needed by the United States
for flood risk management
The treaty optimizes flood management and power generation,
requiring coordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia
River and Kootenay River on both sides of the border.
As a direct result of the treaty, four storage dams were
built: Mica, Arrow and Duncan dams in British Columbia, Canada; and Libby Dam
in Montana. The Columbia’s headwaters are in British Columbia. The river flows
south into Washington, then west along the Oregon-Washington border to the
Pacific. Tributaries from British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon,
Washington and Wyoming feed the Columbia-Snake river system.
These four projects more than doubled the storage capacity
of the Columbia River system, increased control of the river flow, thereby
decreasing the risk of major flooding events downstream, and provided
opportunities for releasing water at times needed for power generation and
other downstream benefits such as fisheries and water supply.
For more information on the Columbia River Treaty go to the
Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 website https://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/Default.aspx
managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration.
To follow this process since 2013, see these stories:
-- CBB, June 24, 2016, “Cantwell, Canadian Ambassador Meet
To Discuss Columbia River Treaty Ahead Of North American Summit” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436994.aspx
-- CBB, March 18, 2016, “Cantwell Secures Commitment From
Canadian Prime Minister To Move Forward With Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436251.aspx
-- CBB, March 11, 2016, “Cantwell Urges Canadian Prime
Minister To Start Talks On Columbia River Treaty; Murray Quizzes Moniz” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436203.aspx
-- CBB, Feb. 12, 2016, “Cross-Border Coalition Urges
Collaboration In Modernizing U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436053.aspx
-- CBB, June 12, 2015, “State Department: Columbia River
Treaty Negotiating Position To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Function,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434234.aspx
-- CBB, April 17, 2015, “NW Congressional Delegation Urges
Obama To Initiate Negotiations On Columbia River Treaty,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433725.aspx
-- 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, Oct. 18, 2013, “B.C. Releases Draft Columbia River
Treaty Recommendations, Wants Full Accounting Of U.S. Benefits,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428719.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