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Cantwell Says U.S. Ready To Start Talks With Canada On Columbia River Treaty
Posted on Friday, October 14, 2016 (PST)

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 in 1964.


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 like."


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,%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 in advance.


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 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”


-- CBB, March 18, 2016, “Cantwell Secures Commitment From Canadian Prime Minister To Move Forward With Columbia River Treaty”


-- CBB, March 11, 2016, “Cantwell Urges Canadian Prime Minister To Start Talks On Columbia River Treaty; Murray Quizzes Moniz”


-- CBB, Feb. 12, 2016, “Cross-Border Coalition Urges Collaboration In Modernizing U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty”


-- CBB, June 12, 2015, “State Department: Columbia River Treaty Negotiating Position To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Function,”


-- CBB, April 17, 2015, “NW Congressional Delegation Urges Obama To Initiate Negotiations On Columbia River Treaty,”


-- CBB, Sept. 19, 2014, “Columbia River Treaty Reaches Age 50 This Week; British Columbia, U.S. Considering Future Options”


-- CBB, March 21, 2014, “British Columbia Announces Decision To Continue Columbia River Treaty While Seeking ‘Improvements,’”


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


-- CBB, Dec. 20, 2013, “Final Recommendations For Revising Columbia River Treaty With Canada Sent To State Department,”


-- 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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